DVD : Control (2008, Anton Corbijn)

Control is a biography of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division who committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 23. It concentrates on Curtis’ struggle with his marriage, girlfriend, health and, almost obliquely, his career. Fans of the band will not be disappointed but this is not a vehicle primarily for Joy Division. Sam Riley debuts as Curtis, supported by the wonderful Samantha Morton as Curtis’ wife Deborah. The film is based on Deborah’s book “Touching from a Distance” which I must now track down.

Most striking is that this is not a rock-and-roll movie. All the more powerful as it depicts Curtis as not-your-typical tortured rock-and-roll kind of a guy. There is none of the detached, superior London or New York tart about Curtis. He does not sneer at the rest of the world and try to be cool for appearance’s sake. He did not even seem to make a fortune from his art. An ordinary kid growing up in a nondescript home in Macclesfield, with a love of modern music. Displaying a hint of other-worldly brilliance, he married young and worked at the local Employment Exchange. Riley presents him as a guy with warmth and manners as he politely helps locals get work before jumping into a van to head off to a gig. No doubt that Curtis was looking to escape the ordinariness of his existence but he was continually torn between his love for the music, his Belgian girlfriend Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) and his home responsibilities – the loyalty and love he owed his wife and his desire to be a good family man.

I kept looking for the sex-and-drugs grit. Not here. Writer Matt Greenhalgh and director Anton Corbijn used Riley’s nascent talents to poignantly describe Ian Curtis, the man, through a series of mostly ordinary events and experiences. Yes, teenage Curtis played with pills nicked from neighbours but later resisted the increasingly complicated cocktail of prescribed drugs forced on him by his condition. His epilepsy was what haunted Curtis most and the film suggests that a serious fit contributed to his scared and torn state of mind. It was that and his despair at the continuing loss of the titular grip on his own destiny which provoked him to take his own life.

It is difficult to provide a critique of this film and its DVD presentation – I was so caught up in the material that any attempt at a critical study went out of the window ! I cannot claim to be a Joy Division fan but, ironically given its focus on Curtis rather than the music, Control has made me curious. Recommended for film fans as much as musos. I must also check out 24 Hour Party People which examines the scene around Tony Wilson, Factory Records and Manchester more generally.