Last night I watched Grant Gee’s 2007 film Joy Division, a documentary about the influential band from Manchester, England.
I really enjoyed the film… in fact, I like it better than Control, another Joy Division film from 2007. While Control is a great film, it focuses on lead singer Ian Curtis because it is based on Touching from a Distance, his wife’s autobiographical account of their marriage. As a result, Control has a few blatantly obvious biases and factual errors. For example, according to Control, Ian Curtis wrote “She’s Lost Control” shortly after his first epileptic seizure. In reality, Curtis wrote the song months before the seizure as a tribute to an epileptic girl he encountered whilst working with the disabled at the Manpower Services Commission in Manchester. Control also shows the band playing “Transmission” on their first TV appearance instead of correct song, “Shadowplay”.
Anyway, whilst watching the movie last night, I was completely taken in by a brief montage which features a bunch of artsy 8mm shots of 1970s Manchester – grimy, rotting, crumbling, depressing – over which “Disorder” is played. I’d completely forgotten how much I love that song.
Unlike, say, the music of The Jam (another band I love, but who’s music is firmly set in the 1970s), Joy Division’s music seems timeless. “Disorder” could have been recorded in 1978… 1988… 1998… or even in 2008.
Then there’s the style of the band, and by that I don’t mean their “fashion”, but how the music is. Joy Division were as “tight” a band as you could ask for, but each instrument seems to be doing it’s own thing. Unlike a child’s music box (where every individual piece is dedicated to the task of making music), Joy Division sounds like a machine built for a completely different purpose that just happens to sound like music. Each instrument floats in its own aether… and then the hollow, haunting voice of Ian Curtis kicks in… and it makes something that doesn’t sound like any band before or since.
Do yourself a favor: turn off the TV and turn down the lights. Get rid of all the distractions, then dig out your headphones and listen to this: