Joy Division fans have been spoilt for cinematic choice over the past six months. Despite the fact that the seminal Manchester outfit are by no means widely well-known, this is the second film on the band to make its way into multiplexes in a matter of months.
While last year's Anton Corbijn-directed 'Control' dramatised frontman Ian Curtis' story alone, Grant Gee's excellent documentary tells – as the title suggests – the wider story of the band's birth, rise and tragic conclusion, speaking to all of the major players along the way.
Surviving Joy Division members Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris are all present, as is designer Peter Saville; Curtis' lover Annik Honore; and the late Tony Wilson, the band's record label boss. Only Curtis' widow, Deborah, is a notable absentee.
Complementing Corbijn's film by filling in the gaps, highly-regarded music documentary maker Gee begins the story by painting a picture of what Manchester was like as a city to grow-up in during the 1960s/70s. As Sumner puts it, it was a city where "nothing was pretty".
Yet despite its drab greyness, Gee manages to convincingly cultivate this image of a vital, exciting city where anything is and always has been possible. Joy Division, he puts it to us, were the sound of Manchester at that time, and could have only developed out of the city – its twin characteristics of utter bleakness and vital energy somehow fused into this dark, claustrophobic music, difficult to consume, yet far too compelling to ignore.
Two-thirds of the documentary focuses solely on the band, and though fans will know the story inside out, it's nonetheless fascinating viewing to hear the story told from those who were there. Sumner and Hook confess to hating the band's acclaimed debut, 'Unknown Pleasures'; interesting anecdotes flow from Sumner, while hilarious quotes spark from Hook, such as that on Curtis' meeting with William Burroughs.
As one might expect, the mood of Gee's documentary shifts as light is shone upon Curtis' depression and suicide. It's difficult not to be moved by his bandmates' evident feelings of guilt in not having been able to spot the warning signs. As Hook comments: "It was only when Deborah (Curtis' wife) published the lyrics years later that we realised what he was singing," adding: "we were boys, and boys don't talk about those things."
The interviews, carried out by acclaimed music journalist Jon Savage, force the band to confront their true feelings as to both their career and Curtis' death and herein lies the power to Gee's documentary.
From a fan's prospective, the most interesting addition is the inclusion of Curtis' hypnotism by a concerned Sumner who had been reading up on hypnotic regression as a means to halt his friend's depression. The recording is as eerie as it is interesting.
Having made Radiohead's excellent documentary 'Meeting People Is Easy', Gee can count 'Joy Division' as another huge success. Outside of the band's compelling story he has made a documentary that, in all aspects, excels. Testament to his success is that those with little or no knowledge of the band will find themselves absorbed in this tale.
Though excellent, Corbijn's 'Control' left the feeling that Joy Division's story hadn't quite been completely told. Gee's documentary redresses that balance and is highly recommended to any music fan. The book, you feel, can now be closed.