Control [DVD] review by Joy Division

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  • Released: Jun 3, 2008
  • Sound: 8
  • Content: 7
  • Production Quality: 9
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.2 (40 votes)
Joy Division: Control [DVD]

Sound — 8
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.

Content — 7
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.

Production Quality — 9
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.

Overall Impression — 8
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.

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    America was a place that Curtis never visited as he died of an epileptic seizure in his home before Joy Division could embark on their tour in America.
    Um... I don't think that's right!!
    d3mon slay wrote: Great flick ironically i watched it on his birthday.
    I think you mean coincidentally.
    I ****ing loved this movie, it was so good, I felt so connected with the main character
    The fact the reviewer got the cause of Ians death wrong just shows shoddy research,and yeha, its made pretty obvious he hung himself in the film, maybe they didnt watch it... It's a very touching film in my opinion, and the documentary "Joy Division" is a fantastic accompaniment, and well worth watching in its own right, saw it at the cinema and really helps flesh this film out...It's a cool coincdence that both this and 24hr Party People use "Atmosphere" during Ians funeral scene, then again its an amazingly haunting song that fits....fantastic band
    people expect this film to be a Joy Division film but its not. Its an Ian Curtis biopic. Anton Corbijn talks about it in the bonus features. Good point by Tallman1984 there. I guess the impact of Joy Division's initial success on Ian wasnt really as well explained as it could have been. Still.. great movie though. 9/10 for me. Amazing film about a troubled artist.
    I love this movie, it's by far one of the best films I've ever seen.
    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.
    It's about someone who feels like he has lost control over his life mainly because he was in a band, Mr. Ebert. Way to pay attention to detail. By the way, you're also implying that just because this movie mainly focuses on Curtis (an not as much on the rest of the band) that the movie is somehow a disappointment and incomplete. Who said this was supposed to be a movie about all of Joy Division? If anything, this movie should get credit for not fitting the so-called standard of every other biopic thats ever released. It was a nicely shot, well-acted film and, by the way, displays a lot of the band's music very justly. The fact that you even got the process of Curtis' death wrong makes me wonder if you even watched the movie, or even if you know that much about Curtis for that matter.
    Curtis hanged himself, he didnt die of a seizure so this is just a very stupid mistake... The movie was okay though, The scenes where they performed where great !
    dude, you actually see curtis kick the chair near the end of this film, this review is so off it's hilarious. overrated movie.
    i agree, very untrue! however a great film. really makes you feel asthough you are there. even a simple thing as having it in black and white adds something to it
    I'm pretty sure Ian Curtis would like us to leave him alone. If you want to know about him, listen to him and his band.