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Unknown (Dis)Pleasures: BB gets Torn Apart by Control!



Joy Division emerged from the ashes of glam and the advent of punk in the late ‘70s and during their brief run became one of England's greatest rock groups. The new wave quartet was the bridge between David Bowie and The Smiths, and at the center was Ian Curtis, the band's frontman and main lyricist.

Curtis, who had bouts epilepsy, depression and medications, hanged himself in his home in 1980. Like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Curtis' premature death lifted him into rock immortality, gathering a flock of music lovers to pay respect to the band's haunting tunes and Curtis' morbid, frail poetry.

Director Anton Corbijn, who made his mark in the mid ‘’80 s and early ‘’90s with music videos, returns from hiatus for “Control”, his rendition of Joy Division's rise and Curtis' battle with stardom and the dwellings of his love life. Corbijn, who refers to Joy Division's music as a major influence in his career, glums this biopic of an already glummy icon that it takes away the fun of being a rock star as Curtis comes across like a poster child for martyrdom, How goth!

The story unfolds during young Ian’s (Sam Riley) days as a quiet kid reading beat writers and worshiping Lou Reed in his room inside his family's modest apartment. He meets Deborah (Samantha Morton), an equally shy girl who is seduced by Ian's elusiveness. The two fall for each other and elope, seemingly dooming Ian to a conventional life as husband and social worker. But Ian was not destined for conventionality. He meets a group of out- of -luck musicians led by Bernard Sumner (James A. Pearson), who would later excel to fame with New Order. For these musicians, Curtis is that missing piece for success.

They form Warsaw, Joy Division's first incarnation, a mixture of sensibility and post-punk rage. The band adds cocky promoter Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell) and achieves notoriety, drawing the interest of music Lothario and future La Hacienda Club/Factory Records head Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson). With the support of Wilson and the their unique brand of angst and power, Joy Division is born.

The expanding popularity of the innovative group draws problems for the emotionally unstable Curtis, who now faces the pressures of being a committed husband and father - while falling in love with Belgian embassy employee Annik Honoré (Alexandria Maria Lara).

Director Corbijn can't be denied his artistic investment in bringing Ian to life, from the detailed and excellent recreations of the band's live performances (the actors learned to play their instruments for this film*) to the depiction of the solitude of an English suburb. The director makes a brilliant choice in transferring the film to black and white (he originally shot in color for technical reasons*) which is the appropriate visual companion for Joy Division's eerie sounds. Corbijn also uses the music to follow Ian's emotions throughout the story, most notably during the vocal recording of "Isolation" which has the star trapped in a booth while his friends and lover are separated by glass. It's an exquisite scene depicting Curtis' internal journey and one of the highlights of Corbjin's photographic expertise. By casting Sam Riley as Ian, Corbijn found himself a dead-ringer for Cutis, both in features and mannerisms.

Nonetheless, the movie's second half turns into a not-so bizarre love triangle, which grounds Ian from legendary status into an average ol' bloke with domestic problems. It plagues the film with a tame melodrama – a determent to the aggression and brooding of Curtis' persona. For all of the melancholy of their music and lyrics, Joy Division's most surprising characteristic is how truly energetic it was, yet the movie derails when one can't keep up with the other.

“Control” becomes so deadpan (come on, I had to use “dead” again somewhere in this review)somber that it flirts with boredom; also hitting us in the head with the argument that Curtis' anguish had messiah-like resonance. Yes, he was tragic, and his music was awesome, and he had his unfortunate illness, but damn, I can't feel that bad for a guy whose main reason for killing himself is that he can't make up his mind about loving one great girl over another one. You want your rock stars in biopics to crash and burn spectacularly, not be trapped in a Lifetime TV movie.

“Control” might feel superb to the most devoted Joy Division and Ian Curtis fans, but for those who don't know about them, depriving the allure of myth strips Curtis' appeal while making us feel guilty that he gave up "so much" for his art. By the way, guilt is a sentiment dumped on us whenever a "misunderstood" pop star dies on his or her own accord, a bothersome trend in the entertainment industry, but I digress . . .

In “24 Hour Party People,” Michael Winterbottom's lively film about Tony Wilson, the eloquent Brit recalls a quote that goes "If you have to print the truth or the legend, print the legend.” That film features Ian Curtis as well, and for the 20 minutes or so he’s on-screen, we get treated to both facets. It is a great, empathetic tribute to Ian while leaving room for mystery. Corbijn's effort is noble, but for a movie titled “Control,” letting go of some would have worked wonders.
*IMDB used as the source of “Control’s” production information.



Official website:



Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Written by: Deborah Curtis(Book), Matt Greenhalgh(Screenplay)
Cast: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara

Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

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