Saturday, June 21, 2008



Watched Control last night. It's Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic. And it's good. The music is excellent, which seems obvious, but it's more of a stretch than you might think. First of all, unlike other movies about British musicians from the 70s, Corbijn actually got to use music from David Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Buzzcocks, Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols and, of course, Joy Division. Which is all great (and they're all good choices of songs as well).

But this isn't just The Big Chill for suicidal epileptics in highly influential bands. The actors playing the members of the band all learned the Joy Division songs and play them live to film. It's pretty amazing. All the live performances seemed great at the time I was watching, but I had to re-watch them when the credits came up. What's most impressive is that they manage to capture (and even demonstrate) the strange recording sounds, both in-studio and live. Speaking of the credits, that Killers cover of Dead Souls was just dreadful, and would've been an AWESOME place for Day of the Lords, instead. A lot of the songs are arranged in autobiographical order, making them seem a bit on the nose sometimes, but whatever. You have to play Love Will Tear Us Apart, and you're not going to play it during the bus trip where Curtis has his first seizure, you're going to play it when The Love is Tearing them Apart.

As a biopic, Corbijn pretty much hits all the wikipedia/allmusicguide points. There's nothing particularly new here, but I'm not sure Curtis lived much of an engaging life beyond the touchstone moments. Maybe the movie would've been stronger if it emphasized the dull struggle of an uneventful life? I can't say. But as a movie (apart from the biographical elements), the real strengths lie in the performances of Sam Riley as Curtis and Samantha Morton as his wife, Deborah. Riley looks like Curtis, and he paints a very convincing picture of a gothy poet turned post-punk almost star suffering from crippling disease and depression. The movies of the 70s gave us the anti-hero, but Curtis was, at the time, giving us the anti-heroic. The climaxes of the story rest principally on his inability — his frozen response — to do anything when his own Romantic ideals conflict with his desires. He doesn't know how to be a rock star or a husband or a father or even a friend. So he just doesn't bother being any of them. But when he's forced to perform one of those functions, he instead chooses the one act that will protect him from ever having to take any action again. Riley is asked to alternate between being dead, soulless, occasionally manic and always charismatic and he succeeds brilliantly. He's particularly fearless in depicting Curtis' stage performances, never appearing to be mocking or knowingly winking at the camera.

Samantha Morton is amazing, as usual. I've been in love with her since she played Hattie in The Sweet and Lowdown. She's probably the most human actor working today, and brings all that to bear in this film.

The film itself is gorgeous. Apparently shot in color and converted to a high-contrast, low-grain black and white, Corbijn shoots every scene with his photographer's eye, and manages to elevate the mundane into something more sublime.

I do think the whole thing could've been a bit longer, a bit fuller. The unavoidable problem is that Curtis and Joy Division's story ends before it would really begin. The entire legend surrounding the band is that they managed to get these few songs recorded and those few gigs performed before Curtis would end it all. But that seems like more of a reason to focus some attention on those in his inner circle. The rest of Joy Division and the other various managers and hangers on never fell fully fleshed out. Even in a biopic about one person, there weren't so many people around him that they couldn't have been rounder or less like caricatures. I think Riley's performance would've benefited more from having more to contrast it with. Perhaps that's being saved for the New Order sequel?

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