While fans everywhere await Control (and while I count myself among those who are dying to see Anton Corbjin’s Ian Curtis biopic, I’m waiting for its theatrical run at Film Forum), the Toronto Film Festival catalogue held an instant surprise for me when I saw that the festival would be showing Grant Gee’s Joy Division, a documentary portrait of Curtis’ band. Importantly, Gee got access to the three surviving members of Joy Division (Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris who went on to become New Order) and the late Tony Wilson, who signed the band to his Manchester-based Factory Records label. Gee, whose cinematic portrait of Radiohead, Meeting People Is Easy, is the final word on the drudgery of fame, is also involved as the Director of Photography for the Swarm of Angels Project, a creative collaboration between artists that will produce a film under the Creative Commons License, making it probably the first high-profile open-source film project of its kind.
The influence of Joy Division on rock and roll in the last thirty years is pretty much immeasurable; For a band that recorded two albums of music, they have produced many heirs and the love of generations worth of fans. They have also been the subject of three three major film projects in the past few years (24 Hour Party People being the first) and while the tragic story of a suicidal musician cut off in his prime tends to romanticize the band in the eyes of fans who buy into the “hope I die before I get old” school of fame, the older I get, the more of a terrible waste it seems for Ian Curtis to be gone. Sure, Joy Division never got to sully their legacy with an unpopular record or a change of style, but like any great band, they would have endured regardless and the world would never have been deprived of Ian Curtis’ particular brand of genius. Instead of something wonderful and vital, Joy Division has become, for me anyway, something frozen in amber, an unchanging, beautiful thing like a statue from an earlier age that still tells me something about the world today. Toronto is certainly the place I want to see Gee’s film; With excellent projection and multiplex sound, this is the place to see one of the best bands in history finally have their collective story told.
Joy Division, Transmission & She’s Lost Control Live, 1979
Grant Gee’s Joy Division is playing at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival in the festival’s Real To Reel section.
Tomorrow: Julian Schnabel’s Lou Reed’s Berlin