Film Review: “Joy Division”

Photograph of Joy Division by Kevin Cummins

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.]

6 Replies to “Film Review: “Joy Division””

  1. A few of these Mancurian documentaries/movies did the rounds a few months back, when Tony Wilson passed away. Eg “Control”, an Ian Curtis biopic from last year.

  2. @jason: Glad to be of service. Was Joy Division part of your youth?

    @Simon Slade: That is an extremely scary photo. Glenn Morris looks frightful. He was of course a nightclub promoter of note in later years.

    I recall that he was working with Paul Hodder when, after a heated exchange about something I can’t remember, Acb Tyson told them that The Core magazine would no longer run their advertising. They blustered on about taking legal action, either somehow forcing us to take their business, or they’d be “forced” to run TVCs on Channel Nine and we’d have to pay for them. I think Acb then told them to fuck off. Later, they apologised and we ran their ads again.

    That doesn’t actually have anything to do with Joy Division. Except for the poster, perhaps.

    @Alastair: I’m guessing that everyone involved in the Manchester scene is now “of a certain age” when they want to record this stuff before it’s lost.

    We should probably create something about the Adelaide dance music scene in that period when it was Extremely Fabulous, with Metro as the coolest of the cool at one point. We can start by leveraging all the Facebook groups.

  3. This film will hopefully serve to tell the story of Curtis and Joy Division in a more complete manner than Anton Crobijn’s “Control”, which looked fantastic (being a photographer and designer, especially for Depeche Mode, you wouldn’t expect anything less). Sadly the script was not tight enough to give the band’s meteoric emergence the momentum it needed. I left “Control” wondering just why there was such a fuss made about Joy Division.

    I look forward to seeing this film and learning just why the band left such a lasting impression on a generation of music lovers.

Comments are closed.