I didn’t listen to Joy Division, but I have a new appreciation for their music after seeing this bio pic about singer Ian Curtis. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new documentary about the band.
The film is great even if you have never listened to the band. It takes place in Britain in the late 70s and early 1980 as the post punk scene is burgeoning. It follows Ian and the band as they develop a sound and begin to grow a following. Throughout the movie, Ian, who is a little different than everyone else, grows more distant from those around him as the pressures of family and band increase. His lyrics are poetic and dark, and his stage presence has that unique possessed feeling you get from the great performers. He becomes epileptic, which increases his emotional distance and depression. It’s filmed in beautiful black and white, which reflects the town they lived in and wanted to escape from, as well as his depression. Speaking of the town, Ian says in the film, “Every thing’s gray.”
I always come away from movies and books like this with a weird feeling in my gut. Heavier than Heaven, the Kurt Cobain biography, did the same thing to me. I guess it’s because I could have easily gone down a similar road to these musicians. Not that I’m a genius or would have been a tenth as popular or talented as they are, but I could have sacrificed everything for music and ended up just as empty and destroyed.
The story of Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads to be a great guitar player is an allegory. What does it mean? Well, if you’re a little talented and you put everything you have into the music- your faith, your love, your soul- you will probably make some great music, but you have to sacrifice absolutely everything. What will you have left of yourself?
I’m sure people have compared Ian and Kurt before, so I know I’m not making any profound revelations here. One thing that really struck me is that both guys said they didn’t intend for things to happen the way they did when their music began to do well. This is a paradox considering both guys set out to be rock stars. No matter what he said in interviews to appear “punk,” Kurt left the evidence of his intentions in his notebooks. So what do they mean by they didn’t intend things to go the way they did? They didn’t imagine completely emptying themselves and getting very little spiritually in return.
Both guys also said when they were on stage they put everything of themselves into the music. Ian says in the film that he felt like it wasn’t even himself, like he was watching himself. And then the fans, the band, and the managers all wanted more. To paraphrase Ian, he says they don’t understand how much of his soul he gives. What was left? Compound that with personal relationships and trying to have a family- both guys ended up sucked dry and wasted spiritually. They leave behind beautiful music.
Here is the trailer to the Joy Division Documentary. It looks great.