Control (Director: Anton Corbijn, UK/USA, 2007): My fears about this one were mostly justified. Anton Corbijn began his career as a rock photographer and is perhaps best known for shooting the covers of U2’s albums. From there he moved into directing music videos before taking on this film as his feature debut. Corbijn has crafted a pretty conventional biopic about the life of Joy Division’s singer Ian Curtis, who committed suicide by hanging himself on the eve of the group’s first US tour in 1980. All of the formative moments are checked off: Ian as glam-loving teenager singing in front of a mirror, Ian meeting and marrying his wife Debbie, upon whose memoir (Touching From a Distance) the film is based, Ian’s first epileptic seizure, Ian’s affair with Belgian groupie Annik Honoré (played by an impossibly gorgeous Alexandra Maria Lara). As with most biopics, time is compressed to a ridiculous extent, making it difficult to feel any depth in particular scenes before we’re rushed off to the next major event. As well, Corbijn films in black and white, and instead of making late 70s Macclesfield look like the grim industrial suburb it was, he almost makes it look pretty. In the same way, he photographs Curtis (played ably by young Sam Riley) like the rock photographer he can’t leave behind. Samantha Morton does a fine job of portraying the forgotten wife, but given that she was hardly acknowledged by the members of the band, it’s hard to trust much of the script, which must by nature deal in speculation.

However, the actors portraying the band members played all their own music, and did a wonderful job. And the film drove me back immediately to listen to my Joy Division records, which must mean something worked. I thought the scenes leading up to Curtis’ death were handled sensitively as well. But perhaps my favourite moment was one of the lightest. The presence of John Cooper Clarke (playing John Cooper Clarke!) performing his inimitable spoken word piece “Evidently Chickentown” made me long for the days when someone like Clarke could open for a band as “dark” as Joy Division.

Curtis’ story reminded me vividly of another reluctant rock star. Someone hungry for fame but then disdainful when it arrived. Someone who married and had a child only to doubt his abilities as a husband and father. Someone who struggled with health issues to the point of despair. Yes, I think if there is an afterlife, Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain are sharing a cigarette somewhere.

Official Site


NOTE: I saw this film before the film festival started at a special press screening. I’ve actually revised my numerical rating upward in the days since I first saw the film.

UPDATE: The film opens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on October 23rd.

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4 Responses to Control

  1. a h says:

    Annik : groupie ?
    Ian : disdainful ???
    how wrong to use such bad and sad words…

  2. James McNally says:

    A H, what a pleasant surprise to have you comment. I called you a groupie because that’s what you appear to be in the film. I could have used “fanzine editor” but that’s all the background information we get about you. How do you feel about the film’s portrayal of you?

    As for Ian, I really felt that he was uncomfortable with the fame he achieved. Maybe “disdainful” seems a strong word but he was definitely ambivalent. Everything had changed and he’d “lost control” as he put it.

    Please remember that I’m only judging the film and not your actual life, of which I know little. Do you think the film was a truthful portrayal, considering that it was based largely on the remembrances of Ian’s wife?

  3. Jay Kerr says:

    I almost fell out of my chair when John Cooper Clarke did a cameo in the film. Awesome! I thought the film was fabulous.

    I wasn’t really much of a Joy Division fan before the film but I’ve been on iTunes purchasing a bunch of Joy Division’s music. So yeah, it worked for me too.

  4. Greg says:

    I just saw “Control” last night here in LA at the Swerve Festival, and Googling around afterwards I stumbled upon this page.

    James: What makes you think that because someone signed their post “a h” that it was necessarily Annik? (I realize you have the e-mail address, but that can be faked)

    As for Annik herself, a little bit of research would have shown that she was a promoter (Google for “Annik” “Plan K”) and was instrumental in establishing Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crepuscle, the latter of which she was a co-founder. Hardly a “groupie” (despite the movie’s portrayal – and even then, she was introduced as a journalist).

    You tried to compare Ian to Kurt, and I think the comparison is odious. Kurt was openly disdainful of his Rock super-stardom, whereas there is nothing similar in Ian’s story to suggest the same level of aversion – and I speak as someone who has been a JD fanatic since I first bought “FAC 2 – A Factory Sample” new back in 1978. Nirvana were orders of magnitude more well-known and popular when Kurt killed himself than JD ever was – Kurt had a lot more fame to be disdainful of than Ian ever did, that’s for sure. The only (tenuous) connection between Kurt and Ian, in my eyes, is that they were both sensitive souls (with young daughters) that found themselves unable to cope with their lives, and took the only way out they could.

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