Back when Triple J’s Hottest 100 voters could choose the best music of all time, not just the current year’s releases, Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear Us Apart won top spot for the first two years, 1989 and 1990. Certain floppy-haired boys played me this melancholy pop song endlessly late at night. It was good, sure, but that significant? Having seen Director Grant Gee’s new documentary Joy Division, I now know why. I really know.
This. Is. A. Magnificent. Film.
Just watch the trailer to get a taste.
- Director Grant Gee reckons the story of Joy Division is the story of Manchester. The city invented the industrial revolution, but by the 1970s it had become a bleak concrete modernist blockhouse. As one band member says, “I was 9 years old before I saw a tree.” Thatcher loomed. Joy Division’s melancholic sound channelled the very essence of the city.
- The selection and editing of archival footage is brilliant, starting with Joy Division’s truly dreadful Sex Pistols-inspired punk origins and their rise through Manchester’s underground music scene. He visits the locations of long-gone nightclubs and captions the shot of the current building “Things which aren’t there.”
- We hear from virtually everyone: all the surviving band members, who you’d know as New Order; producers, designers, promoters and lead singer Ian Curtis’ Dutch journalist girlfriend — though not his widow, who appears only through her writings.
Yes. If you don’t already know, you’ll discover that Joy Division’s story is also the tale of Ian Curtis’ self-destruction.
Most people assumed Curtis was off his face during his erratic, mesmerising performances, but no! He was literally in a trance, which as the pressure of stardom climbed eventually became full grand mal epilepsy. Blaming himself for holding back the band’s meteoric rise, he killed himself in May 1980.
Joy Division is a powerful story. Yes, I shed a tear at one point. But it’s also a masterpiece, preserving a vital slice of musical history.
Joy Division opens today at the Chauvel Cinema in Sydney, Cinema Nova in Melbourne and the Luna Leederville in Perth.
[Photo: Joy Division photographed in Hulme, Manchester, 6 January 1979 by Kevin Cummins. Cummins appears in the film Joy Division and talks about the photo shoot when this was taken.]
[Update 11am: You can also read ’Pong’s review, if you like.]