I admire Joy Division a great deal. I started my fascination with the band after seeing Michael Winterbottom’s film 24 Hour Party People starring Steve Coogan. I thought it was a brilliant film and it captured that time in music history really well. I also thought at the time that there was no need to have any other film portray this time in English history, because it would end up being sub-par but would be the one everyone would remember. That is of course before I saw Control.
Control is Ian Curtis’ bio-pic. He was the lead singer of the band Joy Division and killed himself when he was only 23 and the band was on the cusp of their first American tour which probably would have launched them into international stardom. However the two albums that were put out before he died live on in anybody’s music collection who has an interest in punk history. They are haunting albums full of loneliness, depression, and beautiful machine-like beats. This film does a great job of deconstructing these abstract songs and place them in a context that is even more haunting.
I liked this film for several reasons. The first reason is portraying Ian Curtis as not a great guy. You don’t see a whole lot of it in 24 Hour Party People because it is Tony Wilson’s story more than his, but Ian Curtis was a man who cheated on his wife, went back to her and then cheated again and again and again. He not only fooled his wife into thinking that he had given up this girl, but had fooled her into believing that he will give up his wife. This situation was a major factor in his depression and guilt that led him to kill himself and this film disects it and puts it all on the screen for everyone to see. He was also almost always unsure of himself. The only time he seemed to be happy was when he was on stage and even by the time he killed himself he didn’t like doing that either. He was man like the comedian Marc Maron says is very in his head. He wants everyone to understand where he is coming from, but he just can’t. When he was first seen on television (which happened to be on Tony Wilson’s show), he did a dance no one could quite understand. That rythmic and elongating dance is a metaphor for his life.
Another reason I liked this film is the cinematography. Corbijn decided to make the whole film in black and white, something that is a rare artistic choice at this point in film history. I think it helps set the mood of Ian Curtis’ depression. He also portrays the buildings of England as these imposing figures crushing Ian. They are also structures that are most depressing being the same look and color as every other building in that town. I don’t know much about England’s history, but I think the place he was stuck most of his life was a town that saw its heyday during the Industrial Revolution and had been declining ever since.
Anton Corbijn has an impressive history at least to me he does. He started out as a photographer and photographed bands, including Joy Division. He is also Dutch and was friends with Ian Curtis’ girlfriend who was also Dutch. He hung out with the band and many other bands at this time and would later become a director of music videos. This is first feature length film and he seemed to choose his subject well. He seems to have lived the material, seen the events portrayed in the film and reproduced it in the most interesting way.
Little touches that I like is watching them record a song on an album and seeing the percussionist use an aerosol can as part of the beat. That is interspliced with them playing the song live and you can still hear those sprays ever so faintly. I liked the sweaty shirts the band inevitably always had on after a long show. I liked the scene where Ian and his girlfriend Annik first meet. She watches Ian give his all to a song and while people are jumping and dancing around her she just stares transfixed at this rock god. I feel that is how I would be if I could have seen Joy Division. Ian Curtis had such a presence on stage that it was fascinating. I like how when Ian is going to his first real job, he has scrawled on his black jacket the word HATE. That made me chuckle. I also like the manager’s performance. It provided a comic relief that was desperately needed.
I love this film. To see it again after some time, I am reminded how powerful Ian Curtis’ story is, how good the performances were and how well it was captured. If you were to watch this film, I would bill as a triple feature the first being the documentary Joy Division that came out around the time that Control was released, then Control and then after being put through the emotional ringer, have some comic relief with 24 Hour Party People.