Sound: Anton Corbijn's film Control is an interpretation of the life of Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis from the time he was 17 years old until the day of his untimely death at the age of 23 in 1980. The music of Joy Division acts as a backdrop for the story, which centers on Curtis' private life, transporting audiences through the phrases of his relationship with his wife Debbie and the affair he has with his mistress Annik Honore. The movie never deflects away from making Curtis the focal point from which all roads lead to, and Curtis' poetry and song lyrics assist in moving the story forward.
One of the most poignant moments in the film is when Curtis' song lyrics illustrates the scene showing the singer, played by actor Sam Riley who delivers a stirring performance, witnessing a young woman in the throes of an epileptic seizure. Curtis intones, Looking life in the strange new room / Maybe drowning soon / Is this the start of it all. This segment demonstrates Cutis' song lyrics as poetry in motion, playing a pivotal role in revealing his fears and insecurities about becoming famous as he is about to make the move to performing with the band in larger dancehalls and going to foreign lands like America, which is new and strange to him. America was a place that Curtis never visited as he hanged himself in his home before Joy Division could embark on their tour in America.
Ian Curtis is portrayed as a dreamer in his teenage years through the mid-'70s spending his time listening to the artists of his day like David Bowie, the Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. The music of his day sparks his own artistic abilities as Corbijn projects Ian Curtis as a highly evolved poet who was more than able to touch his own emotions, and also the driving force behind human behavior unveiling some of nature's deepest secrets in his verses. The movie manages to bring to life the lyrics of Ian Curtis. His premonition noted in his words foretold that his end was near as he was being pulled in so many directions - the security of his wife's bosom, his heart which craved for Annik, the audiences that wanted more from him, and his art which called to him. // 8
Content: If you are expecting Control to document the making and journey of Joy Division, then you will be greatly disappointed. The band members of Joy Division are tertiary characters in the film that do not add much to Curtis' life, which is far from reality. After Curtis' death, the remaining members of Joy Division went on to form the band New Order. Audiences can pick up similarities between Joy Division's music and what they know about New Order's sound. Both bands share a proliferation of glossy synth vibrations and bars of resonating guitar chords that emit continuous frames of sonic specters, which audiences will associate with the stylistics of New Order. The film prompts the revelation that new wave bands like The Cars and The Cure were chromosomes triggered off by Joy Division's experimental molecules. It becomes an unspoken truth that Joy Division is one of the forefathers to new wave and shoegaze. Joy Division's schematics pop today as many people have even compared singer Tom Smith of England's modern rock band Editors of having the bluesy baritone registers of Ian Curtis, who in the film is inferred to have a likeness to The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison.
The script for Control takes concepts from the book, Touching From A Distance by Curtis' wife Debbie Curtis. Prominent figures in Ian Curtis' life are present in the film like Joy Division's manager, Rob Gretton played by Toby Kebbell and TV host Tony Wilson, played by Craig Parkinson. The content of the film takes audiences through Curtis' internal struggles between holding onto his stable home life and pursuing his desires that cause him to risk losing that stability. Corbijn does not make the film strictly about Joy Division, but depicts more inclusive themes like man's struggle with himself to find happiness and uncertain about which path will get him there. The movie Control is more about someone who feels like he has lost control over his life than it is about a guy being in a band. // 7
Production Quality: The movie was filmed in color and transposed into black and white, which gives the picture a vintage look and sharp contrasts in its cinematography. There is a Kafka-esque quality in the movie with the use of symbolism in every nook and cranny of the picture. When words are not spoken, the images in the scenes alone tell the story like when Curtis is rocking his daughter in a baby carriage. His body is detached from his mind which is looking some place else very far away from his daughter, or when in the middle of making love to his wife, Curtis breaks down into an uncontrollable crying jag, symbolizing the overwhelming guilt that he feels for betraying his wife and wedding vows by keeping a mistress. Words are not spoken in these scenes, just the photographic pictures and characters actions alone tell the story. The architects of the movie use their artist license to interpret Curtis' story, and viewers need to also employ their own inferences in order to understand what they are watching. The production shown in black and white actually makes the intensity in the drama jump off the screen and evokes lasting impressions on the audiences' minds. // 9
Overall Impression: The movie is educational above all else for film students who want to see how to make a black and white picture work on audience's minds, but the movie is very poor at re-tracing the relationship that Ian Curtis had with his band mates. Rather, it almost entirely draws audiences' attentions into the life that Curtis had with his wife. The film's content projects themes such as man vs. himself and man vs. universe as Curtis struggles with the demands made from audiences to give more of himself to them. The struggle peaks with a riot that breaks out at one of the band's gigs between the members of Joy Division and the front row of the audience who want the band to keep playing. The movie touches lightly on this conflict that musicians face, having to elevate audiences energy levels and then bring then back down so audiences let the band leave the stage. It was a battle that Ian Curtis never knew how to handle according to the movie, and ceased fighting it after he passed away. The movie shows how Ian Curtis had a hand in creating these bitter circumstances, but also how he was a victim of circumstances created by external forces. He gave into the pressure of this struggle at the end, but the music which he created with Joy Division has lived on far longer than he could have ever imagined, and the movie Control is a testament to Ian Curtis' longevity. // 8
- Susan Frances aka sweetpeasuzie (c) 2008