film review: Control (2007)

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Ian Curtis died on May 18th, 1980. He was 23 years old.

Control is a biographical film based on the 1995 memoirs of Ian Curtis’s wife, Deborah Curtis, entitled Touching From A Distance. It is directed by acclaimed photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn.

Shot in colour than transferred to black and white, Control is a portait of a man who didn’t seem to fit, no matter how much he wanted to. The film starts with Ian in school, just before meeting his future wife and chronicles the formation of the band, it’s signing, including the apocryphal tale of Tony Wilson signing the contract with the band in his own blood, Ian Curtis’s diagnosis of epilepsy and his downward spiral into depression, culminating with the events just before the band’s first scheduled US tour.

Despite the dark and depressing nature of the subject matter, this film isn’t particularly difficult to watch. I don’t know if that’s a good thing though, perhaps it should have been. It’s an interesting story that focuses on Ian Curtis’s life and relationships, as opposed to any telling of the band’s days on the road or anything like that. Looking back I suppose, given that it’s based on Deborah’s memoirs (and she was left at home with their baby), this is partly out of necessity. Also, given that it’s based on Deborah’s memoirs, it’s very balanced. What the film gives you is quite a stylised telling of the pressures that Ian Curtis faced and the pressures that he placed on himself. It doesn’t blame anyone for his death nor does it particularly romanticise his life, he was a normal man who just couldn’t cope with what was going on around him.

To be honest I’m not sure if it’s really right to rate this film as there are so many ways interpret a person’s life and to rate this film would be rating this particular interpretation. I don’t feel particularly qualified to do that, I didn’t know the guy. What I will say is that there were only really two or three moments in it that I really felt a truth to it, which is not to say that any of it was lies, but in many ways it did just feel like a story. The scenes involving Debbie and Ian around the housewarming party, during and after, and then one particular scene when Ian talks about how much he gives on stage but it’s never enough. Those scenes, I think, are really the most important scenes in the film, they give the couple character and sympathy.

What I can say, in terms of rating the film, is that the acting by the two leads – Sam Riley and Samantha Morton – was excellent. Having watched some videos of Joy Division now on youtube, Sam Riley had him spot on. Also, it looks great, the fact that Anton Corbijn is a photographer is obvious.

My main, and possibly quite odd, criticism of the film is that I felt it was missing a sense of time. I didn’t really know anything about Ian Curtis beforehand and it felt like a lot of time had passed between each scenes. I had no idea he was so young when he died and I think I would have looked at it a bit differently if I had had any idea of how quickly everything happened.

Anyway, on the whole this was a relatively entertaining way of spending 2 hours. I don’t think I could say that it was really fascinating but the music was great – I have to say, that song Love Will Tear Us Apart is one of my all time favourites – as were the performances. It really is a sad tale and one can’t help but wonder how things could have been. Of course, there’s no way of knowing…


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