This weekend we watched the 2007 narrative film “Control” (via iTunes purchase) partly for my own personal education of the history of electronic music–which has been an interest these days–and partly because my sweetheart is obsessed with New Order, the band that evolved out of Joy Division after singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. If that ending was a spoiler, then this film is not for you.
The film, while visually stunning, in my opinion is a “fan film” for people who already know about and love Joy Division’s music. It’s a classic bio-pic and does little to give historical context to someone learning about the band for the first time. For example, there is a moment in the film where they show the band’s drummer using a spray can to create a percussion rhythm and recording it in the studio–but there’s little that lets you know that they were one of the early harbingers in the early 60s of sampling and electronic music’s current unique sounds. Another example is that Curtis is shown attending a David Bowie concert and has his poster up in his room, but there’s not much more historical context of the musical scene at that time other than a mention of a few bands and some posters in the background at clubs or how much they were influencing other musicians around them once they formed Joy Division. For fans of that era and genre of music, you’ll catch all the cues, but others may be totally lost.
Maybe it’s not the film’s job to give that historical context since it’s really about singer Ian Curtis’ mental and physical health struggles. But even then, it doesn’t go particularly deep into his emotional psyche. This may be in part because no one knows for sure what was going on for him and the screenplay is based on his wife’s account in her book Touching From A Distance. The script doesn’t offer much depth or complexity beyond some of his notes and writing that is incorporated.
All that being said, if you are a fan of Joy Division it’s a satisfying film. The art direction and actors are on point and Sam Riley nails Ian Curtis’ mannerisms on stage. Shot all in black and white, the cinematography directed by Anton Corbijn is like a series of band photographs. Corbijn, if you’re not familiar with his work, has been a long time photo documenter of UK bands like Depeche Mode and U2. (He also directed Nirvana’s well known music video for “Heart Shaped Box”.)