I walked into Control having not read the synopsis properly, thinking that it was a documentary about Ian Curtis: short-lived frontman of equally short-lived, but highly influential, English postpunk band Joy Division. I was wrong; Control is actually a biopic about this same Ian Curtis, and one of the first degree. Director Anton Corbijn (who has past links as a photographer of the band) works from biography material written by the iconic singer’s widow, Deborah Curtis, to create a perfectly toned and beautifully rendered homage to this mysterious musical subject.
During his short life Joy Division front-man and lyricist Ian Curtis achieved a modest amount of fame and notoriety in the local English and European music scenes. Nearly three decades after his untimely death (at the tender age of 23) he has entered the realms of musical mythology; he and his band being claimed as an influence by such acts as U2, The Cure, Bloc Party, and Interpol to name just a few.
Shot in Monochrome, Corbijn’s exquisite biopic Control traces the story of Ian’s life from his high school romance and early marriage to Deborah Curtis, through to the formation of Joy Division and their subsequent rise to fame; his affair with Belgian music lover Annik Honoré through to the slow collapse of a life sunk in self-inflicted guilt, epileptic seizures, and intensely personal musical poetry; ending with his untimely suicide at the tender age of 23. The characters are recognisably human in this life story which, though dark, is far from extraordinary. In Control, director Corbijn turns a compelling story into a beautiful piece of cinematic art.
Sam Riley compels you to watch – all believable intensity and self-loathing – as the troubled and introverted Curtis. It is like he carries a mysterious, mythological weight, drawing despondence around this movie like a winter coat. Samantha Morton, likewise, impresses as the hopeful but hard-put to wife who struggles unsuccessfully to hold a burning flame. She inspires sympathy and empathy with a worthy performance in this underplayed masterpiece. The remainder of the supporting cast add to the film – in particular the darkly comic presence of Toby Kebbell playing band manager Rob Gretton – but ultimately all are backgrounded by Riley’s performance as much as their actual characters were by the person of Ian Curtis himself.
The director treats all the characters with a sympathetic touch and leaves the viewer to draw their own feelings about the characters’ various actions and attitudes. This is an admirable feat considering his source material (Deborah Curtis’ biography) could have put a heavy bias on the characterisation. The fact that he also managed to track down and speak with Annik Honoré shows his commitment to giving a balanced feel to the characters. They even use a note written by Ian to Annik (which she showed to them) in the film. Control seems less inclined to just relate a series of events than it seeks to draw the viewer into Ian Curtis’ situation; to enter into his sense of confusion and fear as his life spirals out of control.
Corbijn’s background as a photographer is evident right from the very first scene. The director takes the mundane environs of industrial England and turns it into a tapestry of iconic black and white imagery. Simple shots of tenement housing really come alive under his beatific gaze, whilst a long considered shot of a mix of outdoor power cables are rendered into high art leaving the images etched on your memory.
DVD Info + Special Features
Dendy have done a nice job of the extras on this Director’s Suite single disc release. Anton Corbijn’s director’s commentary is enlightening, and I have to say that his soft Dutch accent is quite calming to listen to! Listening to his description of both the production process, and more so the film’s subject, you get a palpable sense of his personal connection to this project. A self taught photographer turned filmmaker, Corbijn’s passion for music and the role played by Ian Curtis and Joy Division in his personal story come through in this story; infused with warmth and care for its characters. Sensing this as he speaks makes his comments all the more worth listening to.
The other specials make for an interesting additional to the film, although the B-Roll material will probably prove a little dry for many bar the budding filmmakers/actors.
Overall, a top rate package for a relatively small scale production.
» Region 4 PAL
» Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9
» Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
» Optional subtitles: English
» Director’s commentary
» ‘Making of’ featurette
» Extended Musical Performances
» B-Roll Footage
» Behind the scenes
» Original Theatrical Trailer
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: MA 15 – Contains strong coarse language
Duration: 98 mins
Genre: Drama / Biopic
Director: Anton Corbijn (2005)
Actors: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Mario Lara, and Toby Kebbell.
Release Date: 22 May 2008.