On Sunday, May 18, 1980, I was recovering from my high school prom the night before. The Pacific Northwest of the United States changed forever with the explosive eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Protests for democratic reforms in South Korean led to the Gwangiu Massacre. And in the kitchen of a small house in the desolate British town of Macclesfield, a depressed epileptic rock singer barely known outside England at the time killed himself never knowing that he would be one of the most influential rock figures of his era. Find out about that young man, Ian Curtis, by listening to the music of Joy Division first and watching these movies second.
24 Hour Party People
The story of Joy Division, Ian Curtis and the band's resurrection as New Order is but one of many storylines in this wonderfully entertaining movie. The real attraction here is Steve Coogan's performance as Tony Wilson, head of Factory Records. Factory Records was a unique record company even in comparison to other independent labels. "24 Hour Party People" tells not only the story of Joy Division's first two albums and Curtis' suicide, but touches on other popular bands from the Madchester scene from the Buzzcocks to Happy Mondays. Sean Harris plays Ian Curtis, but Ralf Little makes a stronger impression as Joy Division's revolutionary bassist, Peter Hook. "24 Hour Party People" also offers the rare chance to actually see Andy Serkis' face on screen. He plays Martin Hannett, the producer who helped to create Joy Divison's signature sound.
The story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division is the most interesting story arc in "24 Hour Party People" but represents only a small portion of the movie's screen time. That can movie give you a taste for finding out more about what drove Ian Curtis to commit suicide literally on the brink of their first American tour. "Control" is one of the most beautifully photographed black & white movies since domination of color in the 1970s. "Control" is really more about Ian Curtis than Joy Division so those looking for some insight into the band itself may be disappointed. Sam Riley turns in a magnificent performance as Ian Curtis by not only perfectly simulating his definitive robotic style of dancing but also mimicking his deep singing voice so antithetical to the typical rock star falsetto.
Now that your taste for Ian Curtis has been whetted by the docudrama approach, turn to the documentary. "Joy Division" allows you to decide for yourself who more authentically inhabited the role of Ian Curtis: Sean Harris or Sam Riley. This documentary about Joy Division is composed primarily of footage television shows from the 1970s and present day interviews. Here's the thing about a movie about Joy Division. If you've got access to the band's music, you could play it over a Michael Bay movie and be entranced by the visuals. "Joy Division" adds nothing new to the genre of rock band documentary and provides no more insight into why Ian Curtis killed himself at such a young age on the cusp of stardom than the music itself or the two biographical features, but any movie featuring Joy Division's music is worth watching.
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