I went to see ‘Control’ last night which is a film directed by Anton Corbijn about the life of Ian Curtis, lead singer with Joy Division.
The film is based on the book ‘Touching From A Distance’ by Curtis’ wife, Debbie and is as much about the disintegration of Curtis’ marriage when he embarks on an affair with a music journalist, Anikk Honore, as the story of Joy Division.
The film was brilliant and, in particular, Sam Riley’s performance as Ian Curtis was exceptional. The visual likeness was uncanny, the butterfly dancing, the eyes, the clothes, even the way he clutches the microphone. Everything about Riley’s performance was perfect.
Even the voice. Much to my surprise, the actors even play instruments and sing on the live performances in the film and John Cooper Clarke makes an appearance reciting ‘Chickentown’.
If you are a Joy Division fan, the story is well known. Joy Division are formed after the band see the Sex Pistols play The Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Ian Curtis, working at the employment exchange, joins as a singer. The band are championed by Tony Wilson and managed by Rob Gretton.
Ian Curtis then develops epilepsy and his health deteriorates as he struggles to control his condition with various medications. Curtis takes his own life in May 1980 on the eve of an American tour.
There was some poetic license in the film; Tony Wilson faints in a pub after signing the Joy Division contract in blood and Ian Curtis sees a girl have a epileptic fit at work who subsequently dies - the origin of ‘She’s Lost Control’.
Annik’s quote in the film that ‘She was scared - of falling in love’ is at odds with Wilson’s recollection in the recent Factory documentary that she was indeed scared but ‘because of the lyrics, Tony. The lyrics. He f**king means it’.
Thankfully, though the film doesn’t air Debbie’s view that Ian Curtis always had a death wish and believed he would die young although it does continually show Curtis as the depressed, tormented, angst ridden poet wearing a long overcoat and a glum face.
The performances of the actors playing the other band members (Sumner, Morris and Hook) and Rob Gretton are also excellent with great attention to every last detail and obviously, the soundtrack is superb.
Although the film is told from Debbie’s point of view (she co-produces the film), Annik is still portrayed as the glamorous groupie while Debbie is the housewife stuck at home struggling with a young baby (Natalie) while the band are constantly touring.
The end of the story is well documented. However, even though you know what’s coming, even though it’s 27 years ago and Ian Curtis undoubtedly had his faults (the film shows him to be an unfaithful liar), there is no denying the closing scenes in 77 Barton Road are moving.
Especially when ‘Atmosphere’ starts playing over footage of smoke coming from the chimneys at Macclesfield Crematorium (where Curtis was cremated).
‘Control’ is filmed in black and white - not pretentious art but in keeping with Anton Corbijn’s photographs of the band and the ‘Atmosphere’ video he directed.
‘So what’s Macclesfield like then ?’ - Annik to Curtis. ‘Chin up, Ian. Things could be worse. You could be lead singer of The Fall’ - Rob Gretton to Curtis as he recovers from a fit at a concert.
‘The experience of being Joy Division was really really funny. No films will ever show that. We used to have a right laugh’ - Bernard Sumner - from ‘Touching from a distance.’