film review: Control

How can you turn the tragic story of influential singer/songwriter Ian Curtis into a showcase of a talented musician’s unfinished life?

Not an easy task for a music video director to do on his first feature film. Will Control be seen by masses of people? Director Anton Corbijn does an impressive job in telling the story of the lead singer of Joy Division, who committed suicide the night before his band’s first U.S. tour, at 23-years-old. Everyone knows that singers, writers and artists often are misfits; tortured souls who strive to fit in to society, carve out a niche of success and be happy in some way. In doing so, they live excessively, self-medicate and lean toward self-destructive behaviors.

The truth probably is that few people in the states know about Joy Division or the singer/songwriter who brought a new sound and era to the music scene in the UK—notably the Manchester music scene. This might keep people from seeing the film. That would be a shame as this is a moving, accurate biopic. Even I, a self-proclaimed anglophile and Britpop fan, never did that much research on a band that pre-dated my musical interests—I love the song “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” The three remaining Joy Division members regrouped for New Order, which had amazing success [one of my favorite 80s bands]. My gal pal Karen, a singer in the band The Freeways, suggested we see the film and told me to watch a performance by Curtis of “Transmission” that she finds spellbinding and has seen over and over again.

This darkly charismatic film shot in black and white proves to effectively draw in the viewers.

In the mid 70s, influenced by the Sex Pistols and David Bowie, Joy Division formed. Joy Division attracts power player Tony Wilson [depicted by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People]. Control focuses on the meteoric rise to fame of Curtis. Though married as teenagers, Curtis loves his wife but becomes conflicted by all the goodies being in a band brings. With the attention and choices and plans and possibilities available for Joy Division, he seemed to freak out a bit. He also suffered from epilepsy, a condition that the de-rigueur of a band [little sleep, partying, performing under bright lights] exhaust. The heart of the film is Samantha Morton [Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Longford] as the long-suffering wife. Her brilliant turn as his wife is heartbreaking and determined. A realistic portrayal of the dynamic enigma Curtis by Sam Riley makes Control a riveting tour-de-force. It’s all in the eyes: searing pain and bewilderment and loss of control. Control depicts the dead end Manchester scene quite well. As I’ve been told by The Charlatans UK and Damon Albarn [Blur and Gorillaz]: you either work in a factory or form a band. Ian Curtis, like Kurt Cobain, just couldn’t manage the pressures.

STEELE RECOMMENDATION: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE.

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