It's been one of the more pleasant coincidences of the Toronto International Film Festival this year that there's not one, but two separate films focusing on the times and musical legacy of Manchester's Joy Division. Anton Corbijn's Control is a bio-pic about the band's late singer, Ian Curtis; I had the chance to see it in May at Cannes. The other film -- simply titled Joy Division -- is a documentary take on the band's genesis and influence, their victories and struggles. Directed by Grant Gee (Radiohead: Meeting People is Easy,) Joy Division may not be as immediately striking as Corbjin's film -- with its stark-yet-warm black-and-white photography and Sam Riley's performance as Curtis -- but it's just as compelling.
Formed in the industrial city of Manchester, Joy Division marked a unique turning point in popular music: Where punk turned to post-punk, where anger was replaced by angst. Formed by Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Ian Curtis, Joy Division released only two full-length albums before Curtis's suicide; at the same time, tragedy isn't the only thing that made Joy Division's short discography a legend.
Indeed, Gee's demonstration of that legend is a great demonstration of his technique here -- forming a collage of ephemera and seemingly-random information that forms an easy-to-read big picture. To illustrate just how many bands have covered Joy Division's seminal single 'Love Will Tear Us Apart," we're shown ... an iTunes search screen. And while you'd think that simple blunt instrument of a visual may seem inelegant or crude, it instead works perfectly -- not only proving Joy Division's place in the hearts of their admirers but also in an instant reminding us how completely the music business has changed since the days of hand-crafted 7-inch single sleeves and cut-and-paste artwork -- which, thanks to Gee's fractured-yet-focused technique, we also see.