Saturday, August 30, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - JOY DIVISION

JOY DIVISION is an intelligent emotional, imaginatively-made documentary from DP/director, Grant Gee. The story of this revolutionary Mancunian post-punk band has been told twice before in the last five years. It was peripheral to the brilliant, insane story of Tony Wilson, told in Michael Winterbottom's 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE. And it was central, though mono-focused, in the recent Anton Corbijn flick, CONTROL. CONTROL was hard-wired into the story of Ian Curtis, his wife Deborah and his lover Annik Honore. It was sensitively told, visually brilliant, but, as a fictionalised account, narrowly focused and slippery. By contrast, this documentary is scrupulously balanced, straightforward in its chronology, and blessed in its access. Gee manages to interview all the former members of the band and the key players in the story from Tony Wilson to Annik Honore. Deborah Curtis isn't interviewed, but she is quoted. Gee also unearths old bootleg footage of concerts and layers this onto the interviews, old TV appearances, and imaginative recreations of the Manchester of the time. He even produces a nice little spoof of the old FAC numbers, with his list of Things That No Longer Exist - old pubs where gigs took place and such - all knocked down in Manchester's transformation from a post-industrial shit-hole into a modern, commercial city.

JOY DIVISION is worth watching because the story of the band matters and because it affects you emotionally.

It matters because JOY DIVISION were a revolutionary group that took, to paraphrase an interviewee, the monosyllabic, simplistic "Fuck you" of Punk and turned it into the sophisticated, articulate, damning "We are fucked" of Post-Punk. This group of young Northerners wrote songs that expressed the lack of opportunity of living in a country in deep decline - a country being emergency funded by the IMF and on the brink of the Thatcherite revolution. Not only were their songs expressing something real for the first time, they were being expressed in a style that was ultra-modern thanks to Martin Hannett's genius production. The songs changed the path of popular music - a claim that is made of many bands but is rarely true. This documentary gives you a feeling of what it was like to be present at the creation - the excitement, the expectation - and a sense of context. Context in terms of where music and popular culture were headed, but also in terms of the regeneration of the North-West of England.

What I wasn't expecting was just how emotional an experience this documentary would be. Grant Gee manages to get devestatingly honest interviews. These kids had no idea what Curtis' severe epilepsy meant. While Annik might have been concerned that Curtis was living the dark lyrics of Closer, they all thought it was "just an album". Curtis was physically and mentally torn apart by love and illness and yet these naive boys were surprised when he tried to commit suicide and then succeeded, and they freely admit to have been out of their depth and sorry for that.

JOY DIVISION played Toronto 2007 and was released in the UK, Japan, Finland and Brazil earlier this year. It is available on DVD.


  1. Man,I need to get a copy of this. Grant Gee directed the Radiohead tour doc "Meeting People Is Easy" which is one of my favourite DVDs.

    I think this has either just been released or will be released soon in Australia (fucking shitty release delays).

  2. Finally (!) got a copy of this today and I watched it tonight. Brilliant film: doesn't sentimentalise the story or over-play how good or important the group were. The film is really personal and upfront. Really liked the way the it was filmed, with a fair amount of text on the screen too.

  3. totally agree: class film!