Joy Division – [Film]

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

It's been a rather active decade for Joy Division considering the band have been out of order (so to speak) for almost 30 years. Their influence created a genre of its own in the early 2000s with bands like Interpol, She Wants Revenge and others owing quite a bit of their sound to the band, while branding of the band hit fever pitch as Peter Saville's iconic Unknown Pleasures logo was splashed across scores of products and people (who probably had no idea who Joy Division were). In Addition, the beautiful film Control based on Debbie Curtis' side of the story attracted scores of attention.

So, why another film? This was among the questions asked of producer Tom Atencio at one of the very last screenings of Grant Gee's documentary Joy Division. Atencio simply replied that as soon as he heard Debbie's book had been optioned he knew it would be a problem because the band never got on with her well so he wanted to tell their story.

And that he did.

Directed by Grant Gee, who made the famed Radiohead flick Meeting People is Easy, Joy Division is a brilliant look through the lens of the band at their inception, devolution and reincarnation into New Order. The film uses a pastiche of interviews with all three remaining band members, Tony Wilson, Peter Saville and, most notably, Curtis' lover Annick Honoré who has never been filmed on camera discussing the band or Curtis until now. In addition there is quite a bit of rare footage of Joy Division performances which are incredibly thrilling and moving in and of themselves.

The backstory is one most music fans know—how the band got together and how things fell apart. What Joy Division does is explain the story in far more detail and first-person emotion. At one point, Tony Wilson discusses how Honoré repeatedly came to him expressing concern over Ian and how he shrugged her off. He then adds a sobering comment about how stupid he was to not have seen Ian's troubles. When Hook says that one of his only regrets in life was never attending Ian's wake, the guilt cuts heavy.

Most powerful however is Honoré. A beautiful Belgian woman now in her 40s who looks eerily similar to Curtis, it seems she provided some kind of emotional connection and solace to him that was missing at the time. While his band members and compatriots paid no mind to the stories of self-loathing and shame Curtis was weaving in his lyrics, Honoré was empathizing and drinking them in. Despite what any might feel of her as the "other woman," it is honorable that in a day and age of mass tell alls, she waited nearly 30 years to say anything and has never cashed in on his attention. In the Q&A after the film, producer Tom Atencio said they had to practically trick her into talking on camera because she was so petrified. She comes off as a very genuine, quiet and introspective woman.

Debbie Curtis does feature in the film as well but only through letters. Atencio said she didn't want her presence to be a conflict of interest with Control, but one can't help if she didn't want her on-screen presence to be a conflict of interest with Honoré.

Overall, this film is greatly refreshing from the standpoint that here was this band that did play music for the love of it and were also business minded but managed to combine both without coming off as soulless. It seems that the ability to do both in the current era has been lost and rock 'n' roll has been trampled in favor of commercialism. At one point, there's a clip of a Curtis radio interview where he describes touring with the Buzzcocks as "soul destroying." Ironic, how nowadays the entire industry is…and even worse, most of the bands. In a perfect world, this film will extend the band's legacy beyond that of their famed logo and singer's tragic passing and reignite a sense of purpose in musicians.
One can only hope.

More on Joy Division here:

In Cinemas May 2, 2008 at select theaters:

West End:
Curzon Soho
Odeon Panton Street

Barbican Cinema
Bloomsbury Renoir
Brixton Ritzy
Camden Odeon

Manchester Odeon
Manchester Odeon Trafford Centre
Manchester Cornerhouse

Cambridge Arts Picturehouse
Edinburgh Cameo
Glasgow GFT
Nottingham Broadway
Sheffield Showroom

Dublin IFI

Joy Division UK Trailer

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