JOY DIVISION and more music docs that break your heart and rock your soul

Though Joy Division’s time on the music scene was brief, their influence continues to be felt to this day. Guitarist Bernard Sumner’s aggressive, driving riffs — coupled with singer Ian Curtis’ hypnotic lyrics — inspired such musical acts as the Cure and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name just a few. And while their short-lived musical career was a mere burst in the flaming circus that is rock ‘n’ roll, the Joy Division story has fueled two feature-length films, one of which —- Grant Gee’s JOY DIVISION —- makes its Sundance Channel debut tonight.

British director and cinematographer Gee established his musical credibility with probing documentaries about Radiohead, David Bowie and U2 (for the band’s Zoo TV tour). He understands that memorable musician profiles sometimes forgo live stage performances, which can be found elsewhere. Instead, the better docs dig below the surface to probe the minds of the people who make the music, seeking to know what makes them tick.

On the short list of the most stirring musical documentaries out there, JOY DIVISION take a unique look at the life behind the industry and how the power of music can sometimes drive a person to the brink of insanity — and beyond.

You won’t find a more honest exposé of a mainstream band in turmoil than METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, a 2004 Sundance Film Festival selection. Co-directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky happened to be flies on the wall as the long-running metal band meant to record its latest album, ST. ANGER, but instead ended up dealing with personal issues that threatened to rip the band in half. MONSTER shows a band that’s seemingly at the top of its game struggles with in-fighting, doubt and depression. For a different perspective, be sure to pair it with Sacha Gervasi’s melancholic ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL to learn about a metal band who never made it to Metallica’s peak yet still suffers many of the same problems.

You might not have heard of Le Tigre, though the feminist message of the all-girl electronica act once packed the floors of Europe’s top clubs and festivals. I say “once” because Le Tigre is no more, and the vibrant WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR captures most of the combative obstacles that drive a close-knit band apart as they spend consecutive months (and even years) on the road.

Pain and creativity also fuel Jeff Feuerzeig’s THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, winner of the Directing Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The demons, in Daniel’s case, were mental instabilities that led to his hospitalization. But that didn’t stop him from creating symphonic music that inspired such musicians as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (whose own story is told in Nick Broomfield’s KURT & COURTNEY).

But music doesn’t always lead to hardship. End your mini-music documentary fest with the celebratory IT MIGHT GET LOUD, David Guggenheim’s 2008 exploration of the guitar as wielded by three massive rock stars: U2′s The Edge, Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page and Jack White of The White Stripes. If the sight of White building a guitar using nothing but a plank of wood, a soda bottle and wire doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, nothing will.

Don’t miss JOY DIVISION tonight at 10:05P on Sundance Channel.

Photo credit: Kevin Cummins via Wired