Review by Colin Sharp
This is a film that far exceeds the cultural confines of Factory Records and the prowling pack of devoted Joy Division fans that seem to sometimes jealously guard the legacy and the myth. It is a movie about relationships, confused feelings, unknowable pleasures, domestic pressure, epilepsy, torn loyalties and ripped apart love. It explores the tension between the mundane and the mystical; the banal and the beautiful; poetry and perspiration.
It relies heavily, almost exclusively, on the central performance by Sam Riley as a lost, but entirely likeable and recognisable young Bowie fan who, almost by default becomes the lead singer and lyricist for what will become, retrospectively, one of the most important and influential bands ever - namely Joy Division. Fortunately Riley's performance is terrific - he captures the naiveté, the frailty, the sweetness and selfishness of a young man who wanted to be like his heroes- Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Jim Morrison, but was held back, seemingly, by the realities of life in Macclesfield, Lancashire in the mid 1970s, a young wife Debbie (a fabulously sympathetic, restrained and truthful performance from the hugely capable Samantha Morton); a newly born baby-Natalie (now a photographer herself) and the necessity of making a living at the local labour exchange.
The look of the film is glorious - monochromatic shading vies with spectral silver and crisp back and white. There is a narcotic mix of harshness and heavenliness. The attention to detail - down to the correct baby products and post-punk posters - is phenomenal and the soundtrack - a mixture of glam, grit and original live recordings (by the cast) of JD numbers is tremendous. The framing of the shots - not surprisingly given director Corbijn's background as a stills black and white photographer - is gorgeous. Great deals of the shots are done in extreme close-up - Curtis fitting towards the end of the film is an especially powerful and affecting use of this technique.
This is neither a rockumentary nor a punky biopic, but nonetheless the sequences on stage, in the audience, the recording studio, in the obligatory tour vans have an authenticity and a visceral vividness that I have rarely seen- especially as I was actually present at most of the seminal gigs and events.
The low key (at times kitchen sink) drama and slow, occasionally funereal, pace is leavened by genuine Northern wit and humour particularly through the characters of JD manager Rob Gretton and bully boy bassist Hooky. "It could be worse - you could be the lead singer of the Fall" was one of many witty lines from an intelligent and beautifully crafted script by Matt Greenhalgh.
I saw this film with three friends - two of whom had previously known little or nothing about Ian Curtis, JD or Factory Records, but they enjoyed and were moved by it, as a piece of honest, illuminating, truthful, human and humane film making.
My only criticism is that there was too little of Martin Hannett, although when the character did appear, he looked and sounded exactly right and had another great line- "That's fucking genius". A good description of the film itself.
This review was written by Colin Sharp for True Faith which is a fab fanzine (Joy Division meets Newcastle United). Thanks to Michael from True Faith and Colin.