Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/16/09 w/ Additional Edits.
If there's one band that deserves to be put in the same realm of brilliance as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and many others in terms of influence. Joy Division deserves to be in that list. Though they only released two studio albums and lasted for about four years from 1976-1980. The band came out from the punk rock music scene in the U.K. after seeing the Sex Pistols in late 1976 along with members of the Buzzcocks, the Smiths, Mick Hucknall, and people that would form Factory Records. While the band would later become even famous as New Order following Joy Division's demise due to the suicide of Ian Curtis on May 18, 1980. Joy Division's influence has been influential as they helped set the stage for the early 80s post-punk scene.
One of those individuals who saw Joy Division live and even did photographs and music videos was Anton Corbijn. Corbijn is known as an associate shooting photographs and videos for acts like U2, Depeche Mode, and post-Black Album Metallica. Corbijn's unique, black-and-white, colorless music videos and photographs have a distinctive look that is grainy yet beautiful. For years, Corbijn's video work and photography have been acclaimed by many as they all await for Corbijn to make a feature film. In 2007, Corbijn finally made his feature film debut by focusing on the band that he saw back in the late 70s in Joy Division named after one of their songs entitled Control.
Directed by Anton Corbijn with an adapted screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, based on the novel Touching From a Distance by Ian Curtis' widow Deborah Curtis. Control is about the life of Ian Curtis from his days in the early 70s where he met his wife to the days when he formed Warsaw that would become Joy Division. The film also focused on Curtis' troubles with manic depression and epilepsy as well as his affair with Belgian fan Annik Honore. Starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, James Antony Pearson, Harry Treadaway, Craig Parkinson, and Ben Naylor. Control is a powerful yet eerie drama from Anton Corbijn.
It's 1973 in Macclesfield as a young Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) is walking around picking up a new copy of David Bowie's Aladdin Sane. Arriving into his room are his best friend Nick (Matthew McNulty) and Nick's new girlfriend Deborah (Samantha Morton) as they listen to the new Bowie album. While Ian seems normal, he does however go into daydreams in school while he befriends Deborah over their love of books and music as they attended a Bowie concert. After a few years of dating, the two marry though Ian remains somewhat reclusive in his attempt to write poetry. Then one day, the two attend a concert featuring the Sex Pistols. Also attending was Granada TV host Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) and three guys from a band called Warsaw in Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), and Terry Mason (Andrew Sheridan).
The concert turned out to be an event that would change the fact of Manchester all together, Ian asked Warsaw if they needed a singer as he's in the band. Though Ian still works in an employment center getting jobs for people, he finds time to be in the band as they found a new drummer in Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway) while Terry became their manager. The band, now known as Joy Division, raised money to make an EP which got the attention of Tony Wilson who mentions it on his TV show but didn't play it. The band is upset over Wilson's half-hearted mention as they give him grief until a performance impresses Wilson and a local DJ named Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbel) who offers to manage the band. Things start to come around as Deborah reveals she is pregnant while the band became a big hit in Manchester. After doing sessions with producer Martin Hannett (Ben Naylor) to record their debut album Unknown Pleasures. Things seemed fine until Ian's job at the agency had a strange encounter with a young, epileptic woman (Nicola Harrison) who had a fit as she would provide the inspiration to the song She's Lost Control.
A show in London was a disaster as on the way back, Ian started to have an epileptic seizure of his own. Realizing the seriousness of his condition, he goes into medication where the side effects of it take its toll. Forcing to quit his job, he does the band as a full-time job while Deborah gave birth to their newborn daughter Natalie. The newfound pressures of a family life and the band getting some success, Curtis finds solace in a Belgian fan named Annik Honore (Alexandra Maria Lara) whom he would have an affair with. Deborah becomes suspicious that Ian might be having an affair as Ian found inspiration to write the song Love Will Tear Us Apart to express his torn feelings for Deborah and Annik. Just as the band is recording their second album Closer and set to have an American tour in May of 1980, the pressure on Ian becomes too much as his epilepsy becomes more troubling to the point that he couldn't do another show. Even as friends try to help that would unfortunately lead to tragedy.
Bio-pics are often filled with the cliches that comes around when it comes to a musician or a singer. Corbijn and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh does manage to stray away from those cliches by not starting out at the very beginning. Plus, Ian Curtis isn't some revered figure like a Tina Turner, Ray Charles, or even Johnny Cash. Instead, he's more of a tragic figure who would end up losing himself altogether due to manic depression and his troubles with epilepsy. While the screenplay does have a great structure in showing the band's rise and such. It does become uneven where in the first half, it moves pretty quickly from 1973-1978 but by the second half when Ian Curtis' marriage to Deborah disintegrates along with the presence of Annik. Things do slow down a bit as it focuses on that final year of Curtis' life. Therefore, the film that started off nicely kind of loses its momentum from the film's first half.
Another problem with the film, though in some respects is unfair, is that a wealth of the material that is covered along with personalities like Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton, and Tony Wilson are already known and told in another film. 2002's 24 Hour Party People by Michael Winterbottom about Factory Records. Though some of the dramatic interpretation about Wilson's signing the band to his label is different from Winterbottom's tale. The version told in 24 Hour Party People along with the personalities seemed better told though that film really bases things on exaggerations and legends. At the same time, with a lot of bio-pics, there's liberty into the dramatization of things though it's told truthfully. The men of Joy Division were a brash and always cursing. It's often due to the approach of both screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh and director Anton Corbijn.
Corbijn's presentation of the film is unique, though it doesn't have the grainy black-and-white look of his famed photographs and video work. The black-and-white look with touches of gray in a more polished yet eerie look does manage to give the film an arty yet nostalgic look. The compositions and still shots Corbijn create are striking while capturing the exuberance and chaos of a Joy Division show with the actors actually playing and singing these famous songs. Corbijn also does eerie camera movements for the film's second half to convey the dark tone of that half. Despite some flaws with the story and some dramatic liberties, Corbijn does create a film that is unconventional but also entrancing.
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe does a great job with the film's black-and-white cinematography that truly conveys a sense of nostalgia as well as look that plays up to the dark feel of the music of Joy Division. From the bright look of the concert halls and exterior/interior daytime shots to the dark, look of some interiors at night to convey the mood of what Ian Curtis was going through at the time. Editor Andrew Hulme does some excellent work with the film's cutting creating some smooth transitions and jump-cuts to keep the film's rhythm going though it does slow down in the film's second half due to its narrative approach.
Production designer Chris Roope and art director Philip Elton do spectacular work with the look of the 1970s music halls and venues along with the suburban homes that Ian Curtis and his colleagues live in. The items includes some vinyl records as well as posters of the heroes that Curtis looked up to at the time. Costume designer Julian Day does fine work with the film's costumes which includes some early 70s clothes and dresses to the more straightforward, simple clothing that the band wears in the late 70s along with the dresses the women wear. Sound editors Peter Baldock and Thomas Huhn do fantastic work with the sound in capturing the sounds of records and the live shows that are played throughout the entire film in all of its chaos.
The film's soundtrack features a lot of the original music from Joy Division as well as some eerie, somber score contribution from New Order. Yet, the soundtrack also features classic cuts from the likes of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk, and the Velvet Underground. All of which are great except for one things. A blasphemous cover of Shadowplay by the Killers who take the song to bloated heights as it's dark, eerie minimalist performance is now stretched into something more epic and poppy. All of which Joy Division aren't and it's an insult to the music of Joy Division has made.
The casting by Shaheeh Baig is excellent with a notable appearance from legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke as himself in an appearance reciting one of his famous poems. Small roles from Lotti Closs as future New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, Eady Williams as the baby Natalie Curtis, Joseph Marshall as Crispy Ambulance vocalist Alan who takes over for Ian on one troubled show, and Nicola Harrison as the epileptic young woman are memorable. Ben Naylor is good as the late, legendary producer Martin Hannett though couldn't live up to the larger-than-life personality that Andy Serkis portrayed in 24 Hour Party People. Matthew McNulty is good as Ian's schoolfriend Nick while Andrew Sheridan is also good as early manager Terry Mason. Craig Parkinson is very good in his role as Tony Wilson providing some humor to the character but again, he couldn't live up to the exuberant, smug performance that Steve Coogan gave in 24 Hour Party People.
In the roles of the band members in Joy Division, who would also become New Order, Harry Treadaway is very good in a small role as drummer Stephen Morris while James Antony Pearson is really good as Bernard Sumner who got more to do while being the one person trying to help Ian. Joe Anderson is great as Peter Hook in his shaggy, bearded look while being the guy who will get into a fight for his band and fart backstage. Alexandra Maria Lara is excellent as Annik Honore, a Belgian journalist who falls for Ian Curtis as she is unaware that she is tearing up his marriage to Deborah. Toby Kebbell is great as the late Rob Gretton, the band's manager who often spews profanity and insults while being the man to help the band keep things together.
Samantha Morton is phenomenal as Deborah Curtis with her innocent, shy personality early in the film to a woman just hurt by her husband's affairs and neglect. Morton's performance is really the heart of the film as she plays up to the woman who had been Ian's biggest fan only to be betrayed despite her love for him. It's a great role from an actress who rarely gives a bad performance. The film's big breakthrough is Sam Riley as Ian Curtis. Riley definitely looks like Curtis as he can sell the despair and intense performance of Curtis the singer while his dramatic approach to Curtis' own struggle is entrancing as it's definitely a fantastic performance from the young actor.
The film made its premiere as part of the Director's Forthnight at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival where it won the section's top prize. The film was met with high anticipation as it was well-received from critics and fans of the band. While it would win several awards from the British Independent Film Awards, the reaction from the members of Joy Division/New Order were well-receptive. Especially at a turbulent time for the band that would eventually led to Peter Hook's departure from the group while at the same time, a documentary on the band was released simply titled Joy Division.
Control is an excellent yet well-told bio-pic on the late Ian Curtis and the band Joy Division from director Anton Corbijn. Thanks in part to the performances of Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, and Toby Kebbell. It's a film that does give audience, who don't know anything about Joy Division, a chance to see how revered they are in the music world despite their lack of a large profile. Fans of Joy Division/New Order will be glad the film is told faithfully though might have a few issues over some of the dramatization that is told. Yet, the story of Joy Division is better told through its documentary as well as the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People, the latter of which is more entertaining. In the end, despite its flaws, Control is a well-made bio-pic from Anton Corbijn on the legendary Ian Curtis and the band Joy Division.
Related: (24 Hour Party People) - The American - Joy Division (2007 film) - A Most Wanted Man - (Life (2015 film))
Joy Division Albums: (Unknown Pleasures) - (Closer) - (Still) - (Substance) - (Warsaw) - (Heart and Soul) - (The Complete BBC Recordings) - (Preston 28 February 1980) - (Les Baines Douches 18 December 1979)
© thevoid99 2011