After last year’s Control, Anton Corbijn’s considered and stylish dramatisation of Ian Curtis’ life, it would be easy to think that everything you need to know about the legend and legacy of English post-punk outfit Joy Division has already been said. It has, but it has never been brought together with such lightness of touch and skill as it is here in Grant Gee’s imaginatively constructed documentary, which tells the story of Joy Division and troubled singer Ian Curtis with humour, warmth and often painful clarity.
There are two stars in this film: Ian Curtis and Manchester. The true patron saint of Manchester, the late (and most certainly great) Tony Wilson, sets the scene and sums it up in his own typically opulent but heartfelt way, setting the scene for our two stars.
There are several talking heads willing to wax lyrical about the significance of Joy Division’s music – cue Paul Morley – but Gee avoids too much fan boy fawning by dealing with eyewitnesses rather than posthumous plaudits.
Only Deborah Curtis, Ian’s widow, is conspicuous by her absence, here, although there are quoted passages from her biography Touching From a Distance.
The film explains the swift rise and abrupt cessation of Joy Division and depicts their evolution from punk reactionaries to an intense group who did something that was genuinely unique, through rare footage, scant TV appearances, bootleg recordings intercut with personal photographs and recollections.
The incredible frankness and candour with which surviving band members Barney Sumner, Peter Hook and Steve Morris speak is at the heart of this film and their confusion and disappointment at Curtis’ suicide is palpable even now.
Curtis had a singular, truly personal vision and could express his frustrations, fears and despair with brutal accuracy. Sadly, no one noticed his despair in time to help him. His and Joy Division’s story further rubbishes the ludicrous live fast, die young rock’n’roll bullshit myth and this film is an eloquent postscript for the man, the group, and the city that spawned them: brutal, grim, untidy, odd but utterly beguiling.
Selected release from Fri 2 May.