UK/USA/Australia/Japan | 2007 | Directed by Anton Corbijn
Logline: The story of Ian Curtis, the singer of seminal UK indie band Joy Division, whose personal and professional troubles lead to him committing suicide at age 23.
"When routine bites hard, and ambitions are low/And resentment rides high, but emotions won't grow/And we're changing our ways, taking different roads."
It was inevitable that a biopic would be made on the short life and even shorter career of one of the most important English bands to emerge from the debris of the punk era; Joy Division, a four-piece from Manchester with a perpetually sullen lead singer by the name of Ian Curtis who had an extraordinary and inexplicable stage presence, and who wrote some of the most profound lyrics in the history of pop music.
It was perfectly fitting that the person who would champion the story of Ian Curtis (newcomer Sam Riley) and Joy Division was the man who had photographed them from the start, who had captured their steely passion and poker-faced conviction in the raw visual poetry of monochrome; sweating, staring, drawn, and driven. Anton Corbijn was instrumental in creating their Factory Records image, and in tribute he helmed his first feature, this brilliant personal study called Control.
"Why is the bedroom so cold? Turned away on your side/Is my timing that flawed? Our respect run so dry/Yet there's still this appeal, that we've kept through our lives."
Based on the book Touching From a Distance written by Ian’s widow, Deborah Curtis, and superbly adapted for the screen by Matt Greenhalgh, Control balances delicately the fevered atmosphere of Joy Division’s meteoric rise with the trials and tribulations of Ian’s crumbling marriage to long-suffering Debbie (Samantha Morton in fine form) as he juggled his inner demons, an affair with a German music journalist Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara), and his professional commitments. As much as he wanted it all, it became all too much.
Sam Riley delivers arguable one of the greatest performances of a dead rock star ever committed to celluloid; he is Ian Curtis, not so in looks, although there’s definitely a strong resemblance, but in the body language, the physicality, the nuances. Understandable Riley won numerous awards, as did Corbijn for his stunning directorial control (excuse the pun), as well as Matt Ruhe’s luminous black and white cinematography (actually shot in colour and changed in post, but it still looks fantastic).
A big pat on the back must also go Toby Kebbell as the band’s manager, and to the rest of the band actors: James Anthony Pearson, who plays guitarist Bernard Sumner, Joe Anderson, who plays bassist Peter Hook, and Harry Treadaway, who plays drummer Stephen Morris. Corbijn initially planned to have the actors mime to playback recordings of Joy Division, but after a few rehearsals it was decided the actors were proficient enough to play the songs for real, which they do, sensationally.
"Do you cry out in your sleep? All my failings exposed/And there's a taste in my mouth, as desperation takes hold/Yet it's something so pure, just can't function no more."
Control is a beautiful tragedy. It’s a known fact that Joy Division came to a crashing end with Ian’s suicide by hanging in May of 1980, just days before the band were due to fly to America for their first ever tour. In April, and again in June, of that year the band released Love Will Tear Us Apart, one of the rawest, most heart-wrenching, yet finest modern love songs ever composed. Joy Division chose not to disband; instead they soldiered on, recruited Gillian as keyboardist, and transmogrified into New Order, a brilliant outfit in their own right … yet the legacy Ian Curtis and Joy Division left on the indie music scene will remain untouchable, bordering on mythical.