Comments on watching and making films.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


What better way to open this whole thing up, than to review the film that I have been waiting to see for almost a year now (It may, actually, be longer than that. For the life of me, I can't remember when I first heard about "Control").

To start this off, a little personal background. I admit to the fact that I'm not cool enough to have come to Joy Division on my own. I came to them through Interpol. I remember back in 2001, or maybe 2002, when their "Turn On The Bright Lights" album came out and changed my life. Everyone was screaming about Joy Division's influence on them, so, after a while, I finally broke down and bought "Substance", the closest thing to a "greatest hits" you can get. It didn't take more than a few listens to become a true believer.

Ever since then, I have always wanted to make a film based on Ian Curtis and Joy Division, and, imagine my surprise when I found out that someone else was beating me to it. I was angry, at first, when I found out that someone had optioned Deborah Curtis's book, and was planning on taking this thing all the way, but, then the bomb dropped - Anton Corbijn, Joy Divisions primary photographer, and possibly one of the closest people to the band, and to Ian, was the one directing it. My unhappiness washed away. Corbijn has never made a feature, and I don't really care for his music videos, but to know that Deborah and Anton's hands would be on this project, steering it... Well, that made it all worthwhile.

Control is fairly standard in its form. We begin with a teenage Ian Curtis, played with incredible passion and awareness by Sam Riley. Curtis is prime material for the punk explosion that is about to happen around him - he is a middle class kid who experiments with drugs, is heavily into music, and is burdened with the realization that he probably has no real future. After meeting and marrying his girlfriend, Deborah (played by Samantha Morton), he begins to get more heavily into the local music scene, dragging Deborah along with him. Ian and Deborah attend a Sex Pistols gig, which causes Ian to become very interested in the possibility of singing in the band that a couple of his old buddies have formed. Though they don't realize it at the time, this is the beginning of Joy Division, a band that changed the face of punk, is often credited as one of the seminal bands of Goth Rock, and was poised to be as big as The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

The film continues with the bands beginnings as "Warsaw", to their first gigs as Joy Division, their introduction to Tony Wilson (who was the driving force behind their record label, Factory Records), to Ian's epilepsy, his extra marital relationship with a Belgian writer, the slow dissolve of his marriage, and his inability to cope with what his life had become.

The film is shown in beautiful black and white, though I've read that Corbijn shot in color and went to black and white in post. The cast that makes up Joy Division, including Sam Riley as Ian, Joe Anderson as Peter Hook, James Pearson as Bernard Sumner, and Harry Treadaway as Stephen Morris, is pitch perfect, from their appearance, to their attitudes. When Pearson, as Hook, asks Tony Wilson if he "can say big dog's cocks" on national television, I couldn't stop laughing. When Morton, as Deborah Curtis, discovers Ian has been cheating on her, she has a way of making you, as an audience member, empathize completely with Deborah, to really feel her pain. And Riley, as Ian Curtis, makes your heart break for him, even though you know that he's brought all of his problems (except epilepsy) on himself.

Corbijn, honestly, could not have done a better job. And, while his source material is excellent, and his actors top notch, you can tell, in the tender loving care that he puts into every single frame, that Control isn't just another film, it's a labor of love. I don't expect that Corbijn will make another film after Control. This one came from the heart. He wanted to make it because it was a reflection of a moment in time that he got to share with Joy Division, and now, he's able to share it with the world. If he were to make another film, I would definitely go see it, but something tells me this was a one off project, a way to express his thankfulness for the incredible memories that this world has bestowed upon him.

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