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“Let’s dance to Joy Division and celebrate the irony” — The Wombats 

 

This review is not about a rockumentary or film, or a fade-in caught on celluloid. These words, instead, are about a t-shirt that should have never existed.

 

The film starts with collaged montages of Manchester and a voice over that declares (roughly): “This film is not about a band or a group of people, but a city that once created the greatest revolution of Western society, then came back and created a bigger revolution…”

 

Every film that features Joy Division seems to be twice the length that it needs to be.  Perhaps this is because we have twice as much to say about people who were never able to express all they could in so little time. The band/family tribute film “Joy Division”, however, is perhaps the most deserving of its length.  After all, some of the band members never attended their frontman Ian Curtis’ wake and most of the audience were born long after his suicide by asphyxiation.

 

The film’s opening scenes explore the city as a concrete stage that supported the masochistic escape of Curtis’ bleak poetry. His ability to internalize the outside world and create a personal vision which helped him to avoid the establishment is presented implictly.  However, there’s the fact that his words may have been ahead of their time, not even understood by the rest of the blokes in Joy Division, who only realized years later, “Oh, that’s what he’s fucking singing about.”

 

In its rather long-winded way, this film attempts to understand the past events through the reactions and memories of the three remaining members of Joy Division, who later became New Order.  The most entrancing parts of the documentary are the skipped beats as the members’ wait to digest and interpret the shock of their frontman’s suicide.

 

The documentary, however, doesn’t provide as many specific insights into Curtis’ personality, likely because of the “we’re just blokes and we don’t talk about this shit” attitude of the surviving band members. So it leaves us with certain questions like: Was his dance style and the later epilepsy fits connected?  Which authors and what works inspired his words? What are some particular interpretations of the lyrics?

 

Annick Honoré, Ian’s paramour, could perhaps provide some of the deeper insights since it seems she knew Curtis even better than his wife, Deborah Curtis.  However, the moments she’s captured in interviews reveals her to be as intensely guarded now about her private relationship with Curtis as she’d been in the beginning. The film edits are also closely guarded and controlled, removing any moments that would most connect with the audience. What is missing from this view are Curtis’s thoughts about the matter of creation and writing. The best insights about Curtis and the band come from the now-deceased Factory Records-founder Tony Wilson, who is captured in the film just months before he died of cancer. 

 

The Q&A session which followed the screening, with Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order and Tom Atencio, the film’s producer (who managed New Order in North American for 18 years), reveals that the original interviewer, Jon Savage, was too “nice” to the people interviewed.  Perhaps he was too involved with the concrete family that formed the Manchester punk scene in the late 70′s and didn’t want to step on any toes. The editors and producers of the film were also too wary about showing the more intimate moments they may have actually caught.

 

One of the most interesting anecdotes came not out of the film but in the Q&A session, when Peter Hook told the story of being audited by “the taxman” who asks the band, “Where are the proceeds from their t-shirt sales?”  Hook answers, “We never made any t-shirts.” “Well, I see them all over the place, everywhere!,” says the accountant.  “Well, we never made any,” Hook insists. “I’m still going to tax you for them,” is the accountant’s clever response.--Tim Nestor