The short-lived theatrical release of "Control" last fall oddly mirrors the career of its subject matter the band Joy Division, as both came out with little mainstream exposure and was gone before larger audiences ever had a chance to experience it in theaters. And now over a half a year later, "Control", the overlooked rock biography about the tragic life and times of Ian Curtis has been released on DVD and can now be appreciated by those who missed it when it was first around.
Long time music video director Anton Corbijn directed "Control" as his first feature film, and he shot the depressing story in color which he then converted to black and white. He uses the thousand shades of gray to reflect the bleak ambiguity of the story of a music legend that died when he was 23. Ian Curtis was one of the founding members of Joy Division, a seminal band that continues to cast its dark musical influence long after they broke apart.
We are introduced to Curtis, the lead singer, who appears as a maladjusted young man stuck in a dead end job at the unemployment office in the depressed Northwest of England in the late seventies who vents his angst by writing lyrics and poems. And after seeing a performance of the Sex Pistols with his mates, becomes inspired to build a band and perform on their own. Actor Sam Riley does an excellent job portraying Curtis, and as seen in a YouTube mash-up that compares the movie concert scenes with the original archive footage, at times it's difficult to distinguish the two apart.
Curtis however, wasn't just another tortured artist made weary by the world, he also suffered from epilepsy, which would interfere with his day to day life and cause him to have spastic reactions even while performing on stage. The way the movie "Control" depicts the treatment of his disease reminds us how primitive modern medicine can be. In the film, we see the doctors struggle with how to cure his illness, and decide to take a shotgun approach, prescribing a range of different medications, each with its own set of nasty side-effects and problems which in some cases, seem worse than the symptoms of the original disease. This hap-hazard solution of giving him heavy duty prescription drugs appears to have been a leading factor in Curtis's self-inflicted demise.
The movie is based on a book by the widow, Deborah Curtis, and this bias should be kept in mind, especially during the third act of the movie, when their marriage deteriorates into such an abyss that the final action of hanging himself at his home seems more like a final release for Curtis's tormented soul.
As a companion piece, viewers may want to consider also watching the 2002 film "The 24 Hour Party People" which offers a glimpse of the Joy Division story through another window, this one focuses on what happened to the surviving members of the band after Curtis died and they reformed as New Order and launched Factory records in Manchester and gave birth to 'rave culture' everywhere.
Dusting off my Joy Division albums one more time, for Movie Magazine this is Purple.
© 2008 - Purple - Air Date: 6/18/08
Belgium - 2007