Under Review: Joy Division (2006)
R0 - America - Sexy Intellectual/MVD Distribution
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (13th November 2006).
The Film

I have to admit that “New Order” came first for me. Their fusion of electro, pop, and rock was something that caught my ears from early on, and soon I noticed that it had became one of my all-time favorite bands along with the names like “The Cure”, “Depeche Mode”, and “U2”. It would be only a matter of time before I would also discover a band before “New Order” - a band that released only 2 studio albums (along with some singles and compilations) and which ended very suddenly when their lead singer Ian Curtis killed himself at the age of 23, joining the many other controversial rock figures that died too early. Manchester based “Joy Division” never gained huge success, but it left the legacy that is still heard - not just in “New Order”, but in various bands and artists. “Joy Division” just could be the ultimate “cult band”, since it has fans over crossing many musical genres or barriers. And the sound - it´s very unique.

As with many other bands during that time in the UK, “Joy Division” was born from the punk-movement, mainly when they saw the “Sex Pistols” performing live at Manchester. First under the name of “Warsaw” and soon under “Joy Division”, the lead singer Ian Curtis, guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris played their first gig in 1978, and during the same year their first studio EP, “An Ideal for Living” was released. From early on their distinct sound caught attention; dark and haunting music, even darker lyrics, and the deep baritone voice of Ian Curtis. It was more than just “3 chords and the truth” and “Joy Division” probably was one of the bands that started the “post-punk”-era, where the raw and stripped punk-sound started to gain more versatility and influences from the different genres - more experimental sound also. Producer Martin Hannett helped to shape the band´s sound in their debut album “Unknown Pleasures” in 1979, and Peter Saville created the now classic cover art (“the final flashes of a dying star”). During that time the health (epilepsy) and mental (depression) problems of Ian Curtis started to have a major effect on the band, since Curtis had seizures onstage and the relationship with his wife was also suffering. After recording their second studio album “Closer” in 1980 (the album that took their sound a bit further, since it also introduced some synthesizers and effects) and before the planned American tour, Curtis hanged himself in May 18 of the same year. Ironically, “Closer” is considered as one of the best British rock albums during the 1980s and it included many classic songs from the band. Furthermore, the single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (not included in “Closer”) released in the same year became the only “hit” from the band. All this was something that Curtis never saw and on the verge of a bigger breakthrough (real mainstream-success was still probably quite impossible with their style) the “Joy Division” ceased to exist. The music however, plays on - as gloomy as ever.

Since “Joy Division” was (sadly) so short lived, the “Under Review”-series (“An independent critical analysis of the music and career”) can get a bit more deeply into the history of the band and their vivid - yet troubled - history, and the result is a quite interesting and solid documentary. We hear about the controversy that the band´s name got (some people thought that the band was right wing), their record label “Factory Records” and its now legendary co-founder Tony Wilson (he also founded the “The Haçienda” night club), producer Martin Hannett - a perfectionist, and of course about Ian Curtis and his influences. It´s also quite nice to hear that the band wasn´t always “dead serious” (even when their music pretty much was), and they often joked and laughed when they were off stage. The documentary gives a quite honest picture of the band, but you don´t really learn about the other members other than Curtis, and in that sense the documentary only scratches the surface. From the interviews, Lindsay Reade is probably the most interesting, since she actually worked in “Factory Records”, and met the band many times. Her recollections have that certain “real” sense to them. Mick Middles also gives interesting anecdotes and views.
When it comes to music, we hear plenty of that, but as usual in the series, they´re only short segments. I´m no expert, but I assume that there is not THAT much material about the band available in the first place, let alone proper interviews. Among the segments is the first TV-appearance from 1971 (“Shadowplay”) and an audio interview with Ian Curtis (very bad quality, so there are subtitles) from 1979. The live-footage is often very dark and murky, but TV-material (where the band plays in the studio) is a bit better. At least we see the glimpse of how the band looked on stage, and how Curtis did his strange “dancing” during his performance. There are also interesting photos along the way, along with music “videos” - many probably created for this DVD-release. You will hear excerpts from the following songs:

-Love Will Tear Us Apart
-Warsaw
-Shadowplay
-Digital
-Glass
-Disorder
-Day of the Lords
-I Remember Nothing
-Candidate
-Insight
-She's Lost Control
-Autosuggestion
-Transmission
-Atmosphere
-Atrocity Exhibition
-Isolation
-The Eternal
-Twenty Four Hours

Other songs from the documentary:

- Sex Pistols: “Pretty Vacant”
- Siouxsie And The Banshees: “Hong Kong Garden”
- The Clash: “Garageland”
- The Doors: “Back Door Man”
- Can: “Paperhouse”
- Brian Eno: “King's Lead Hat”
- Kraftwerk: “Trans-Europe Express”
- The Ronettes: “Be My Baby”
- Frank Sinatra: “Don't Worry About Me”
- New Order: “Blue Monday”
..and we also see clips from the films “24 Hour Party People (2002)” and “Von Ryan's Express (1965)”.

I have pretty much come to conclusion that the “Under Review”-documentaries are very worth a look for the music fans, but they all are lacking the very important factor when it comes to documentaries; they don´t include any recent interviews from the band members or artists, and therefore in the end you always have a feeling that they´re telling just one side of the story (the back cover says: “The opinions on this DVD are completely independent”), and many times that story is leaning too much to the “analytic journalist”-side. They´re not necessarily for the people who just want to have quick fun with a music documentary and hear some good music. I feel that “Joy Division” summed up the band´s history rather well, but still feels a bit rushed at the end and taking the “obvious” approach to telling the history of the band (focusing on Ian Curtis). The documentary is directed by Christian Davies.

Video

The documentary is presented in 4:3, and the overall look is clean and sharp, apart from the TV and live-footage (they also include some compression issues). Since this is shot in video, no need to expect any fully pristine images, but the documentary looks quite pleasant. “Single layer” disc is coded “R0”, and there are 11 chapters. The documentary runs 69:43 minutes (NTSC).

Audio

The disc has one audio track, English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 Stereo. With “Pro Logic”, you get some quite nice surround-activity when the music segments are played (not with dialogue), so it´s definitely a recommended way to watch this. There are no subtitles. The track is generally clean, the interviews are in most parts professionally done. Some vintage footage don´t fare that well (the audio interview with Ian Curtis is just plain bad quality) for obvious reasons, but no serious complaints on that front either.

Extras

-“The Complete Ian Curtis Interview 1979” -featurette runs 6:23 minutes, and now you can hear the whole interview, accompanied with subtitles (since the audio is mediocre) and some photos. Curtis gives some quite personal stories about the punk movement and the early days of the band, and how the singing was something that he wanted to do from early on. He also talks about his musical influences, and how he liked songs where you could relate to the lyrics. Apparently the interview was done at the Castle Pub in Manchester, November 1979.

-“The Hardest Joy Division Interactive Quiz In The World Ever” includes 25 questions, and you can view the answers at the end.

-“Contributor biographies” includes 6 people; Mick Middles (co-author of “Torn Apart: The Life Of Ian Curtis”), Barney Hoskyns (former NME and Melody Maker journalist), Pat Gilbert (Ex-Mojo Magazine editor), John Robb (Manchester punk musician and author), David Stubbs (music journalist and author), and Lindsay Reade (co-author of “Torn Apart: The Life Of Ian Curtis”).

-“More Joy Division Titles By Chrome Dreams” promo page” includes one page of info about the other titles by “Chrome Dreams”, which is the original UK-company behind this DVD.

There´s also “Limited Edition Packaging”, but that´s just the cardboard slipcase (the disc is packaged in the regular keep case).

Overall

“Under Review: Joy Division” comes recommended if you´re interested in this unique band, but I´m sure that hardcore fans probably need to have more than what was offered here and if you really want to hear their music in a proper way, you need to buy the CDs (hint: Buy the “Heart And Soul” compilation set). The DVD presentation is fairly good, although nothing special. The complete interview was a nice touch.

For more info, please visit the homepage of MVD - Music Video Distributors.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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