Ian Curtis is a quiet and rather sad lad who works for an employment agency and sings in a band called Warsaw. He meets a girl named Debbie whom he promptly marries and his band, of which the name in the meantime has been changed to Joy Division, gets more and more successful. Even though Debbie and he become parents, their relationship is going downhill rapidly and Ian starts an affair with Belgium Annik whom he met after one of the gigs and he's almost never at home. Ian also suffers from epilepsy and has no-good medication for it. He doesn't know how to handle the feelings he has for Debbie and Annik and the pressure the popularity of Joy Division and the energy performing costs him. Written by
Marco van Hoof <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rise and fall of a rock legend in evocative black and white
The first thing that strikes you about 'Control' is its silence, and the chilly beauty of its black and white images. As a still photographer first-time director Anton Corbijn photographed Joy Division in black and white during their short existence. He knows how to get the remorselessly grim feel of the north of England in the late Seventies. (The boys came from the outskirts of Manchester. Joy Division formed in 1976.) This film (there's a documentary just coming out on the band too) is loosely based on a memoir of her marriage by Deborah Curtis, lead singer Ian Curtis' young wife, who had a baby girl by him and then tragically found him after he'd hanged himself in 1980, two months short of his twenty-fourth birthday, just as the band was to tour America for the first time.
'Control's' strength is a certain recessiveness. In the English style, it's offhand and avoids huge dramatic crescendos. That's refreshing. And besides the images and the restraint, the film is worth seeing for the concert sequences. The cast actually plays the Joy Division music live, and Sam Riley, who plays Ian Curtis, not only closely resembles him, but is a riveting and intense, almost at times scary, performer. When he says the public doesn't know how much of himself he puts into his performances, we know what he means.
The film is excellent at showing Ian's dilemmas. The band is a sudden success. He has an attack in their car as the band returns from a gig. Doctors tell him he has a form of epilepsy. He's given a fistful of pills to take every day and told to have early nights and stay off the booze. How faithfully he takes the pills is unclear but he suffers from their side effects in various ways, while late nights and booze are essentials of his existence. It doesn't seem that the English doctors knew very well how to treat him, and he was so busy performing he didn't take the time to go to specialists and have more extensive tests.
Ian had gotten married to Deborah (Samantha Morton) early--too early. On the road he meets a Belgian part-time journalist, Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), and they fall uneasily in love. He's not strong enough to decide between the two women. Fear that his disease will only get worse hounds him, and the fits go on. Riley is fascinating to watch as he undergoes an increasingly visible meltdown. Other cast members are cyphers, though Joe Anderson, who has the role of Max in Taymor's Across the Universe, is the lead guitarist. Morton has a drab role but Deborah's unfortunate situation is present as a constant counterpart to Ian's story. The two other important characters are the Manchester music guru Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) and the band's wise-guy manager Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell).
The creative inspiration of the band, the nature of their songs, the cast of their lyrics, the reason why Joy Division is a cult band today when it only existed for four years--these are matters the film is unable to elucidate. Watch it for the cool visuals, for the tall, soulful Sam Riley, and for the terrific live performance scenes. Enjoy the understatement, and the silence. Don't expect more.
Harvey Weinstein has chosen both for Control and for the soon-to-open Todd Haynes Bob Dylan film I'm Not There to have a slowly-unrolling distribution system, and hopes to bestow early cult status on both films by having them premiere at that temple of cinephilia, Film Forum, in lower Manhattan, New York City, and wait for the buzz of the cognoscenti to multiply and spread. It may work. But both films are tough sells. But A.E. Scott of the NYTimes has said Control is "enigmatic and moving, much in the manner of Joy Division's best songs." And that's a good send-off.
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