on 16 October 2007
I've now seen this story played out 3 times, twice at the cinema in the last 2 days and once as a 15 year old Northern lad. In the true spirit of the "Kitchen Sink" genre, it begins like a modern day "A kind of loving" and has a touch of " Room at the top" (the wedding car scene). Sam Riley is outstanding, portraying Curtis in a way that does not show him as the icon he became posthumously but as a somewhat immature 20+ year old man. This of course is countered by a soundtrack that reminds us of his musical genius played by the actors in a very authentic "Garagey way". A portrait of a man torn between his old and new life complicated by the onset of an illness he was struggling to come to terms with.
If that wasn't enough the photography is glorious, every other shot could be hung on the wall, it never looked so good when I was a lad! I understand that Corbijn was trying to shoot the film like a sequence of music videos and with his massive experience as a still photographer it all works beautifully. He sank a large amount of his own money into this project, and you can tell that making it was important to him as a fan and aquaintance of the band You can see his passion and committment to the film throughout. The sequence in the kitchen towards the end of the film was electric, an incredibly haunting dramatic shot. This Film demands the biggest screen that you can find.
I read a review that said you don't watch this film you live it, the first time I saw Control I was angry at the futility of it all, the second I wept tears for lost youth, his and mine. My advice ? Get yourself a really big telly and a really big box of tissues and enjoy what must be considered the best music film of all time. There's no getting away from the end, like Ian's all too short life it comes too soon in this film and there ain't gonna be a sequel, but buy the DVD and enjoy watching it over and over again. A Classic........
on 8 October 2007
The film fits Joy Division's music perfectly. It is beautifully shot in monochrome, the two leads are superb and the attention to period detail is meticulous. Actual Macclesfield locations are used - particularly the house on Barton Street.
Like most people, I only saw Joy Division via the handful of film clips that exist. The live scenes in the film look totally convincing and Sam Riley captures Curtis's manic, twitching intensity perfectly.
As it ostensibly deals with the breakdown and suicide of a confused young man, don't expect many laughs - though the blunt, wisecracking Rob Gretton character provides much needed light relief. Neither is it a cliched band biopic as it is more concerned with the more mundane kitchen sink drama of a failing relationship.
Joy Division spods can have fun spotting factual errors (e.g. they didn't do the song Transmission for Granada TV), but if you accept that sometimes facts need to be compressed to fit a film, this is fairly faithful to the true events (and yes, Ian did have a donkey jacket with HATE on the back).
Nobody really knows why Ian Curtis killed himself, but the contributing factors are lined up like suspects in a murder case - prescription drugs, infidelity, career pressure, debilitating illness, etc. It doesn't touch upon Deborah Curtis's scary assertion in her biography that Ian might have planned it all along. Best not go there.
If you have any attachment to the band, this is required viewing (and I doubt if you've waited for the DVD). It's the necessary counter-balance to the hedonism of 24 Hour Party people and more in keeping with with the bleak, northern soul of Joy Division's music.
on 22 November 2007
Having read and in many cases re-read the majority of books written about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, while living with the music for approaching 30 years the anticipation surrounding the release of "Control" almost became a living and breathing obsession.
I was lucky enough to see Joy Division in Glasgow and remember being transfixed by the presence and intensity of Ian Curtis; it was just the once and fleeting but even now, after all these years, that feeling of witnessing something special and unique still lingers.
As a result I approached Control with a preconception of what the story should tell us and what / who the characters were and how they should be portrayed.
Dealing with the negatives first, for the sake of brevity a lot of the key musical moments were either ignored or given passing reference, i.e. the recording and issue of Unknown Pleasures and the significance of the Closer lyrics as an insight into Ian's state of mind leading up to the 18th May 1980.
That however is the only negative and given the emphasis on the story on the triangle of Ian, Deborah and Annick it was the correct decision. My complaint, such as it is, is probably because I'm a bit of an anorak where Joy Division is concerned and would have liked the film to be longer, totally selfish and impractical.
Sam Riley and Samantha Morton are simply awesome; I was gripped from the outset and immediately put aside my preconceptions and ended up being swept along by the story, the cast (who were all outstanding) and the cinematography, all credit to Anton Corbijn.
The closing scenes were simply overwhelming and I don't have the words to capture the impact it had on me.
This is a film for all; a film for people who can appreciate a story lovingly and painstakingly constructed, or should that be re-constructed; a film for people who wish to be challenged and reflect on their own lives; above all it is a film for music fans and fans of Joy Division in particular.
Corbijn is first and foremost a photographer - you may be aware of him from his work with Joy Division and Depeche Mode - and the style he brings to the film is self-evident. He and the cast also bring plenty of substance to the film as well.
Riley has the has the hardest role - the task of telling a very familiar story: on the eve of the band's first trip to America, Curtis hanged himself. But even if you don't know the story - if you don't know your Joy Division from your Cheeky Girls - that won't matter, it's still a great account of Curtis' short influential life, reclaiming the myths of him as a trench-coated visionary and reminding us that here, at 23, was a kid who died too young.
Making clear Curtis' humanity, Corbijn gives his tale a rich and unlikely seam of dry humour to counter the darkness of his moods.
The energy of this film when Joy Division finally perform is astounding - playing live rather than miming, the cast bring the band's sound vividly to life, but again Riley is the standout in his imitation of Curtis.
An excellent first film from Corbijn
Before watching this film, it struck me how many ways they could get this film wrong - pandering to his wife (who co-wrote the script), unconvincing acting and, perhaps the greatest potential error: pretentious directing.
The good news is that the film avoided all of these pitfalls and was actually way better than I expected (for such an acclaimed film). Although not a ray of sunshine, the acting was convincing and the plot wasn't too focused around the bleak side of Ian Curtis. In my opinion, it seemed in keeping with Stephen Morris' description of Curtis being "an ordinary bloke just like you or me, liked a bit of a laugh, a bit of a joke."
And as for the story being biased in favour of his wife, the story seemed fair when it came to Annik Honore (Curtis' alleged mistress), portraying her as more of a friend, rather than any sort of bad influence.
Of course, if you don't like bleak films or biopics about troubled rock singers, then this isn't for you.
However, if you want to see a fairly balanced and well-researched treatment of the story of Ian Curtis, which shows him as a 3 dimensional, fairly normal guy, then this is about the best you'll get.
It's also worth mentioning that I'm not really a fan of Joy Division and have only really ever heard 1 or 2 of their songs. If you're concerned that this film is an inpenetrable geeky fan portrayal then don't worry - it's not.
on 22 September 2012
As a huge fan of Joy Division, I was really hoping I would enjoy this film .
I found it to be a wonderful portrayal of a tragic story.
Not only was Ian Curtis an amazing lyricist and unique vocalist - this film showed us that he was a complex, yet sensitive soul who struggled to cope with his emotions via an ironic twist of fate ( regarding his epilepsy ).
The film worked beautifully in monochrome.
The whole Joy Division episode seemed to be daubed in a dark, grey mist and the choice of black & white cinematography evoked the perfect atmosphere ( no pun intended ).
The acting was superb throughout.
Anyone who adored the band, will thoroughly enjoy this film ( at times I forgot that it wasn't actually Ian Curtis on screen - such was Sam Riley's brilliant portrayal )
Fabulous .... buy it .... you will not be disappointed.
on 17 January 2008
Anton Corbijn has made a humane and beautiful film about the tragic Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (1956-1980). Curtis (Sam Riley) is presented as a Bowie-loving apathetic adolescent who doesn't want to be in his own gang, as a loyal, responsible employee at Macclesfield's Job Centre, and as a young groom whose domestic and creative lives soon boomerang into one another. Riley plays Curtis poignantly, brilliantly imitating the on-stage epilectic fits that Curtis felt so ashamed of and sensitively portraying his terrible crisis of conscience as he shuttles between his young dowdy wife Deborah (Samantha Morton) and his beautiful Belgian affair Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara). When performing as Curtis in the packed clubs, Riley's sweaty, jerky march-dancing is startling, showing how the singer "reclaimed his epilepsy as stagecraft" as someone else has said.
The muddy black-and-white cinematography aptly evokes late-1970s Macclesfield. Corbijn doesn't resort to the usual clichés to convey the grainy atmosphere of the period: instead of TV clips of Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, we see deserted and grimy red-brick streets, a beer-filled Sex Pistol concert, a rackety wash-line hanging ominously in the kitchen, and Iggy Pop's record The Idiot spinning on the turntable. Simple details convey the conflict between domesticity and creativity: in Ian's room as a teenager, he has three folders on his desk titled 'Novels / Poems / Lyrics' whilst in Deborah's kitchen stand three upright containers labelled 'Sugar / Coffee / Tea'. The ending when it comes is expected but incredibly sad as plumes of thick cremation smoke rise into the sky over Macclesfield. It's to the film's credit that Curtis's suicide is not shown, but only heard.
However much I liked Control (and it is definitely worth seeing), it's not flawless. Annik's character is insufficiently fleshed out - she comes across as rather bland and uninteresting with only inane lines to say like "I'm a little scared of falling in love with you" (the film is based on Deborah Curtis' book Touching from a Distance, so perhaps this is understandable). Music guru Tony Wilson and manager Rob Gretton are impersonated by Craig Parkinson and Toby Kebbell, but their characters are not allowed by the tight script to develop into more rounded figures and remain stereotyped. Also, I'm a great fan of Samantha Morton's acting, but felt that she overdid the coyness of the young Deborah. She is much better when portraying the adult Debbie, shouting furiously at Ian about his affair and the collapsing of her marital expectations as well as howling in despair upon the terrible discovery of his body.
It's easy to make Control sound more bleak and fierce than it is. There is enough comic relief and Riley's smirky smile also helps to lighten a heavy atmosphere. More importantly, Corbijn does not try to romanticise Curtis as a doomed rock-star cliché. "The movie doesn't try to make them into big mythological people," Corbijn has said. "It's very down to earth, really. It's very human. It's basically the story of a young boy finding his way, and getting lost."
on 7 October 2007
Control is a biopic about the legendary Manchester post-punk band Joy Division, and more specifically about their late lead singer Ian Curtis who hanged himself at the age of 23, having produced only one album and a handful of singles. Such is the legacy of the music made in this short time - indeed it is especially fashionable at the moment with countless pretenders clogging the indie charts - that this is not even the first film to focus on the band and Tony Wilson's legendery Factory Records. Whereas Michael Winterbottom's '24 Hour Party People' was more parodic and tongue-in-cheek, Control is a bleaker, less celebratory film, shot in stark monchrome redolent of the utter blackness of Joy Division's music. Based on a book 'Touching From a Distance', by Curtis' wife Deborah - who also co-produced this film - Control pits the relatively unknown Sam Riley as Curtis against Samantha Morton's Deborah. Much of the pre-film publicity suggested that Riley was picked from total obscurity to play the part, although his appearance (just to confuse matters) as The Fall's Mark E Smith in '24 Hour Party People' suggests this was not his first attempt at acting. It must have been a calculated in-joke then, that at one point in the film Riley's Ian Curtis is told, 'it could be worse, you could be the lead singer in The Fall'.
The fact that this is based on a book by Curtis' wife is a telling one, as is that book's title 'Touching From a Distance'. This film suggests that Curtis was emotionally impenetratable and that while he married Deborah too young, and was unable to reciprocate her love (or fidelity) for him, he was ultimately unable to leave her. It also suggests that his inability to choose between his wife and his Belgian 'mistress' was one of the factors that lead him to take his own life. What isn't so clear - since the story evidently originates from Deborah even if the film is not told from her perspective - is the depth of Curtis' feelings for the other woman (Annick). Annick is initially presented as a wide-eyed European groupie, and her character is not fleshed out enough for us to emphasise with the subsequent agonising torment that Curtis suffers as he is forced to choose between her and divorce from his wife. Furthermore, Curtis is never shown as anything but remote and perfunctary with his wife - whose marriage with he recognises as 'a mistake' - and it isn't totally clear why he was unable to leave her. Was he tortured with guilt or was he just too young to take responsibilites for his actions? As with many biopics, we are constricted by the facts. At one stage Annick says to Curtis "I don't know what's happening, I don't feel I know you, and sometimes I feel you don't know me". As a viewer we can empathise. But is that the point? Was Curtis ultimately unknowable, as emotionally impenetratable and isolated as Joy Division's music? The film also focuses on his epilepsy and finally his inability to cope with the growing demands of fame and success - but ultimately can anyone know the true nature or torment of such a person?
The film is also occasionally reduced to voiceover to flesh out Curtis' thinking where the film lacks the skill to convey this through other, subtler means. Sometimes these voiceovers are clearly derived from letters but in other cases it is unclear. If they are not from letters, whose words are they? This is lazy filmmaking and a shame given the intensity brought to performances by Riley and Morton. The fact that Dutch director Anton Corbijn is a traditionally a photographer by trade is also telling. The bleak Northern English towns are lovingly photographed and framed, and he uses long tracking shots not so much to establish a scene or even a mood but rather to immerse the viewer in some kind of visual iconography associated with the band and their music. As with the 'scene' featuring Curtis walking through his neighbourhood with the word 'Hate' on the back of his jacket while Joy Division's music pounds in the background, it is striking to look at but ultimately a visual conceit as empty as a pop video. Despite all the criticisms, I found myself in tears at the end of the film, which is the highest compliment I can give. For if Curtis' pain is unknowable, Deborah's pain - in the devestating final sequence - is heartbreakingly real. It is for this that I give this film four stars, and let my heart rule over my head on this occasion.
A good film on the early days of Joy Division through to their end with Ian Curtis' tragic suicide.
The lead actor's performance was very good and the story stayed true to the versions I've read of it (Deborah Curtis' and Peter Hook's)
A good film if you're interested in JD or the pressures of fame.
Yes, even if you'd never been aware of Joy Division, and there are some people like me who hadn't, this movie is extraordinarily moving. The players are terrific. Whether or not they actually resemble the characters they represent is relatively unimportant in relation to the human drama which unfolds. The film as a whole leaves an emotional impact upon you which resonates long afterwards.
Martin Ruhe's cinematography, in needle-sharp black and white, complements and underpins the drama beautifully and evokes a time and a place that play a central role in Ian Curtis' story. Likewise the production design and even the carefully chosen cars and vans which heave into view at moments throughout offer a totally convincing picture of the times.
Highly recommended as a powerful human drama which transcends its era.