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  • For every icon, there is an unknown predecessor who paves the way. Before there was Kurt Cobain, there was Ian Curtis, lead singer of the post-punk band, Joy Division. 27 years after his tragic death, Curtis' incredible contribution to music is finally being recognized in Anton Corbijn's film, "Control." It's only fitting that Corbijn serve as director since it was his early photographs of Joy Division that reflected the band's dark, introspective songs. Corbijn went on to photograph and direct videos for such musical greats as U2, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, R.E.M. and Metallica.

    With his first feature film, Corbijn avoids the pitfalls of many music video directors who inundate us with flashy and unnecessary edits and camera angles. Instead, he lets the stark black and white of the film tell the story of a lead singer tortured by epilepsy, guilt, depression and suicidal thoughts. The use of black and white also captures the factory town of Manchester, England in the late 1970s, a city crumbling under industrial and economic stress. Manchester has since rebounded and is once again thriving.

    Curtis is played by relative newcomer, Sam Riley, who's quiet and unassuming approach portrays an artist inspired by his heroes, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. At a chance meeting following a Sex Pistols concert, Curtis bonds with three fellow musicians to form the band.

    As Joy Division begins to flourish, Ian's relationship with his young wife, Deborah, continues to distance itself. Academy Award nominee, Samantha Morton plays the confused wife trying to understand her husband's depressed soul. The film is based on Deborah Curtis' autobiography, "Touching From A Distance", so it comes as a surprise that Morton's character does not have more scenes in the movie.

    The key to Control is understanding Curtis' depression, which the film accomplishes to near perfection. As he battles epilepsy, the young singer lives in constant fear that his next seizure will be his last. His only option is to swallow a daily cocktail of prescription drugs with side effects so terrible, that most of us would rather tempt fate than endure the aftermath of the pills.

    Ian's spirit is also tortured by overwhelming guilt brought on by an extra-marital affair with a part-time journalist, played by Romanian-born Alexandra Maria Lara.

    The most telling scene comes when Ian records an in-studio track for the song "Isolation." While Curtis stoically sings into the microphone, his band mates are distracted with the normal banter that typically occurs in a studio.

    "Mother, I tried, please believe me. I'm doing the best that I can. I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through. I'm ashamed of the person I am." The lyrics seem to fall on deaf ears except for those of the sound engineer who refers to it as "genius." But Ian's brilliance is also a desperate cry for help ignored by everyone in the studio.

    The 27-year-old Riley does an excellent job of capturing Curtis' aloofness on stage. Singers such as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and even the early years of Michael Stipe would often drift into the moment of the song. But when Curtis performed, he immersed himself into his own world where the music simply served as the soundtrack. Riley skillfully draws us into Ian's dark world with a range of subtle head movements and facial expressions to a whirling explosion of arm gyrations that came to personify the singer's stage performances.

    Overwhelmed with grief, shame and depression, Ian finally succumbs to his demons at the young age of 23. He left behind a wife, a child and a musical legacy that is finally receiving its just rewards nearly three decades later.

    For those looking for a story solely about Joy Division, Control may not be for you. But for those seeking an intuitive perspective into the anguished spirit of one of the most influential alternative bands in history, you will certainly find it in this depressing but incredibly beautiful film.
  • Control, a biopic about a band from Manchester, is getting serious attention from around the world. Starting with an award in Cannes. That's maybe more than you might expect. Joy Division, a respected band of the 70s, are hardly a name on everyone's lips. And films made by ex music video directors about yet another load of rockers rarely raise eyebrows. So why is this different? Joy Division, for non-initiates, were a post-punk Manchester band of throbbing guitars and dark, doom-laden lyrics. Recognition in the music biz (especially by other musicians) was perhaps even greater after the death of lead singer, Ian Curtis. Control covers a period from his schooldays to his end in 1980 (aged 23). It is based on the biography of his widow.

    Control uses Curtis' love of poetry, as well as the more familiar songs-that-tell-a-story device, to provide at least scant insight into the music. "I wish I were a Warhol silkscreen, hanging on the wall," he muses. But what is dealt with in much more detail is his growing sense of isolation, coping with epilepsy as the pressures of touring build up, and the distraught domestic relations he is embroiled in with wife Debbie (Samantha Morton) and romantic-interest-from-afar Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara). "It's like it's not happening to me but someone pretending to be me. Someone dressed in my skin," he says.

    In a telling scene when he is under hypnosis, the camera revolves around his head as we hear voices speaking to him. "Ian, let me in, love," says his wife, "there's room to talk." Responsibilities as husband and father. A mistress who is also in love with him. A band and fan following who want more than he can give. From warholian, carefree screen-dream of youth, he has arrived at a place where he doesn't want to be. Drugs and their side-effects no longer a schoolboy's recreational laugh. Prescription bottles grip with morbid fascination. And the knowledge that doctors don't have a cure.

    The film carries viewers away with blistering intensity. Relative newcomer Sam Riley plays Curtis with alarming energy. With Samantha Morton, it's not what she says but what you see going through her mind. She contains her expressiveness for the camera to pick up (rather than thrusting it on us). We want to cry inside for her character. As a feat of interiorisation, Control puts her as a contender in the shoes of Meryl Streep.

    Supporting cast members come through with believability and sincerity, sparkling with well-honed contrasts. Toby Kebbell, fast-talking manager Rob, lifts us out of the depressive mood with wisecracks enough to make legless monkeys jump. "Where's my £20?" asks a hapless stand-in as Rob deals with an emergency. "In my f*ck-off pocket!" he barks back. Craig Parkinson is record producer and late TV presenter Tony Wilson (to whom the opening screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival was dedicated). He demonstrates fine shades of teeth-gritting tolerance, explaining to the band, seconds before their first live TV show: yes, 'large dog's c*ck' counts as swearing, and would mean the broadcast is pulled. Established Romanian actress, Alexandra Maria Lara, succeeds in making Annik far more than the two-dimensional bit-of-fluff that would have been an easy course. As potential home-breaker, it is tempting to hate her, yet her character is shown with the intellectual appreciation and chemistry that Debbie can no longer offer.

    Morton, in the Q&A after the Edinburgh premiere, links the film to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. It is the kitchen-sink, downtrodden existence that her Debbie inhabits. Cinematography is also reminiscent of this period, with its careful black-and-white observation of working class streets. I watched it a second time, enjoying careful compositions and suggestive mise-en-scene. But director Anton Corbijn is typically modest. "I really wanted you to look at the actors on the screen and only afterwards at the look of the film." While Ian, in Debbie's eyes, might be the licentious and 'angry young man' of social realism drama, the Control scenes from which she is tormentedly absent show another side: the world experienced by her husband (a reference in the film likens his isolation to Brando's character in Apocalypse Now).

    "And we would go on as though nothing was wrong. And hide from these days we remained all alone."

    Riley takes on manic expressions as if marching away from an impending epileptic fit while singing Transmission. It is such a potent, almost frightening feat, that we have to shake ourselves to remember he only got the part when he was stuck for a job. "Not a lot was going on in my life before this, so I was appreciative – for the work and the money," he tells the opening night audience. "I imagine this will have opened doors for you," I had said to him earlier; he smiled like a man who still can't believe his good luck. But the 'luck' is very well deserved. His 'Ian' is physically and mentally complex. When I had managed to stop him on the Red Carpet long enough to congratulate him, Mr Riley explains that he had a friend who was an epileptic. "I witnessed an attack often enough to be able to copy it."

    Although the film has a driving energy that takes our breath away, it drifts a little towards the tragic conclusion. We know the ending and it is a case of waiting for it to happen. And although it features plenty of excellent Joy Division tracks, any music biopic will never be good enough or accurate enough for some fans.

    Fortunately this is not just for music fans but for serious film fans as well. It careers in a tightly controlled arc, where music biopic meets cinematic excellence. Why should you see it? "Some people visit the past for sentimental reasons," says Corbijn. "Some people visit the past to understand the present better." Control is not in the sentimental exercise category.
  • Days away from embarking on a long dreamed about tour of the United States, Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division, hanged himself on May 23, 1980 from a rope in the kitchen of his apartment. His suicide not only ended his promising young life but also the dreams of a generation. Twenty seven years after his death, the eulogizing continues. Last year saw a documentary by Christian Davies: Joy Division: Under Review and this year has brought two more films: Joy Division: The Last True Story In Pop by Grant Gee and Control, the winner of the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Based on the 1996 memoir "Touching From a Distance" by Ian's widow Deborah Curtis, the film follows Curtis' life from his teenage years to his tragic death at age twenty three.

    Unlike conventional bio-pics like Ray and Walk the Line with their star glamorizing propensities, Control delivers a three-dimensional portrait of a real human being and how his troubles affected the people closest to him. The film is directed by photographer and video director Anton Corbijn, a celebrated photographer who took some of the most recognized photos of Joy Division. Because he knew and worked with the band, the emotional connection to its subject is palpable. The film is shot in black and white and the choice underscores the grayness of Curtis' home town of Macclesfield, England and the grim mood of much of the work.

    The major reason for the film's success, however, rests with lead actor Sam Riley who eerily recreates Curtis in appearance and voice. He performs all of the band's iconic songs such as Atmosphere, Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Twenty-Four Hours himself, using Curtis' robotic hand motions on stage to great effect. Another outstanding performance is that of Samantha Morton who plays Deborah Curtis, Ian's loving and patient wife who is overwhelmed by her husband's success and her new responsibilities as a mother of their daughter. Married at a very young age, both husband and wife lack the strength to make a go of it especially with the pressure of Curtis' epileptic seizures growing worse, and Ian's on again off again affair with Belgian journalist Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara).

    Though the subject matter is melancholy, Matt Greenhalgh's script provides a light touch filled with trenchant one-liners from the group's manager Rob Gretton (Tony Kebbell) and witty remarks from band members Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson and Harry Treadaway. Although Curtis has become one of rock's most mythologized figures, Riley plays him simply as a very innocent, down to earth young man whose talent was much greater than his ability to handle it. Control is an extremely moving experience whether or not you have foreknowledge of the events of Curtis' life. It is a film that has the power to touch and leave memories that are indelible.
  • tmk118 October 2007
    I saw this film last night then I went home and read a lot of the comments here. I think some things have been missed between the glowing reviews and the bitter disappointments.

    First, it is a truly beautiful film and I found the acting uniformly excellent. That has already been said plenty of times.

    More interesting to me are the comments about this not being an accurate or fair portrait of Ian Curtis and those around him. I've read plenty of accounts that characterize Ian and his band-mates as relentless practical jokers -- the book Torn Apart by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade is full of these anecdotes. But I also think it's naive to expect a film like this to be anything close to a fair and objective telling of anyone's life. This is a dramatic interpretation, not a documentary.

    In addition to the multiple meanings the title has for the characters in the film, this film is itself an exercise in CONTROL: Deborah Curtis's control over her husband's legacy; the surviving band members' control over the public image of Joy Division.

    No, the film does not show the laughs and good times the band had, but this is in keeping with all of Joy Division's work. Their entire output as a living band was highly stylized. Almost everything they issued was in stark black and white; their imagery was overwhelmingly bleak and funereal; and they certainly courted controversy with their name and imagery. All of which was very consciously and tightly CONTROLLED by the band and the people at Factory. They gave few interviews and preferred to let the work speak for itself.

    My point is that this film simply continues that project. It is yet another highly stylized piece of work in the Joy Division canon. To paraphrase the Tony Wilson remark that has been cited elsewhere in these comments -- when you have the choice between the legend and the facts, go with the legend. Their work has always had an epic, legendary quality. This movie is absolutely in keeping with that aesthetic.

    I think it's also worth noting that Corbijn was a participant in shaping the Joy Division legacy from the very start -- his photographs of the band helped shape their image and his video for "Atmosphere" set the tone for how their legacy would be preserved. CONTROL is simply another collaboration with the band and their music. An extension of that original project.

    I think that ultimately this film is an excellent piece of work. Just as Joy Division produced music of astonishing beauty and resonance out of the misery of life in post-industrial England, this film turns personal pain and loss into a powerful piece of art.
  • For me personally writing a comment for Control has proved to be a very difficult thing, my love of the band Joy Division has stayed with me from the very first moment I listened to the Unknown Pleasures album back in 1979. I remember Ian Curtis's death like it was yesterday, and no matter how many years roll by, I still feel an immense sadness when listening to the bands poetic beauty. I was mightily relieved after reading Deborah Curtis's book Touching From A Distance, for I found it refreshingly honest, and certainly it helped people get in a bit deeper to just what a troubled young man Ian Curtis was. So here we are in 2008 and the film adaptation of that book has arrived with truly brilliant results.

    I have found it hard to write a comment for it because I have to cast aside my biased love of the band, but hopefully I've managed to view it objectively with both my head and my heart. Control is a film about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division, people expecting an in-depth film about the band will be a little disappointed because this is the story of their lead singer, a troubled young man who just couldn't face it anymore. Filmed in black & white to perfectly capture the essence of the man the film is about, director Anton Corbijn has stayed loyal to the source material and crafted a haunting piece of work that lingers long after the final credits roll.

    We follow Ian Curtis from his humble music leanings in the early 70s, here he meets Deborah who is soon to become his wife, a married man at the age of 18. We watch him join a group of Manchester lads at a Sex Pistols concert, it is here that the roots of Joy Division are formed. Then it's on to the formation of Factory records and the influential Svengali Tony Wilson. As the band start to make waves Ian Curtis becomes ill with epilepsy, and it's here that Corbijn crucially shows that the doctors involved really didn't have a clue how to treat him properly, trial and error with cocktails of drugs indeed.

    Deborah and Ian become parents to Natalie, but Ian is away on the road for many days and nights, and it's here that he yearns for love from another quarter, and it's here that his infidelity will hang heavy on his already sunken shoulders. The band are set to make it big, their manager announces that they are about to tour America for the first time, this only adds another fraught string to Ian's already fractured bow, the pressure of fame a lethal bedfellow with Messrs epilepsy and infidelity, and then? I can't praise the work on this film enough, Sam Riley {relatively unknown outside of his hometown of Leeds} is simply brilliant as Curtis, dragging the viewer in completely on this desperately sad journey. Samantha Morton as Deborah is immense, she nails the emotional see-saw role with professional aplomb, and I would also like to raise a glass for the performance of the criminally undervalued Toby Kebbell (Dead Man's Shoes, Wilderness) his turn as Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton is down pat. Director Corbijn clearly had love for the project, and thankfully he was sensible enough to not over do the sentimental aspect of the troubled star. What Corbijn has done is perfectly frame the bleaker side of the story with old terraced houses and monstrous looking high rise's, they scream out as dank and dreary statements in black & white, yet they are overlooked by rolling hills to serve as a reminder when Curtis was at his happiest during the courtship with Deborah. Some scenes are unforgettable, such is the power of the emotion on offer, look out for the stunning appearance of heart tugging song Love Will Tear Us Apart, a crucial and poignant scene, and of course the film's tragic outcome hits like a sledgehammer. To which I thank Corbijn for giving us a very tasteful conclusion to this sad sad story.

    So there it is, was I biased? I like to think I wasn't because I honestly feel that one doesn't have to be a fan of the band to get much from this movie. The film has won many awards, and I'm happy to report that Control has brought renewed interest in the beautiful/haunting work of one of England's greatest ever bands. Remastered CDs, reissued books, and even T-shirts are selling well in the shops as I type.

    Control is a very sobering experience for fans and newcomers alike. 10/10

    RIP Ian Curtis, you are very much missed.
  • The first thing that strikes you about 'Control' is its silence, and the chilly beauty of its black and white images. As a still photographer first-time director Anton Corbijn photographed Joy Division in black and white during their short existence. He knows how to get the remorselessly grim feel of the north of England in the late Seventies. (The boys came from the outskirts of Manchester. Joy Division formed in 1976.) This film (there's a documentary just coming out on the band too) is loosely based on a memoir of her marriage by Deborah Curtis, lead singer Ian Curtis' young wife, who had a baby girl by him and then tragically found him after he'd hanged himself in 1980, two months short of his twenty-fourth birthday, just as the band was to tour America for the first time.

    'Control's' strength is a certain recessiveness. In the English style, it's offhand and avoids huge dramatic crescendos. That's refreshing. And besides the images and the restraint, the film is worth seeing for the concert sequences. The cast actually plays the Joy Division music live, and Sam Riley, who plays Ian Curtis, not only closely resembles him, but is a riveting and intense, almost at times scary, performer. When he says the public doesn't know how much of himself he puts into his performances, we know what he means.

    The film is excellent at showing Ian's dilemmas. The band is a sudden success. He has an attack in their car as the band returns from a gig. Doctors tell him he has a form of epilepsy. He's given a fistful of pills to take every day and told to have early nights and stay off the booze. How faithfully he takes the pills is unclear but he suffers from their side effects in various ways, while late nights and booze are essentials of his existence. It doesn't seem that the English doctors knew very well how to treat him, and he was so busy performing he didn't take the time to go to specialists and have more extensive tests.

    Ian had gotten married to Deborah (Samantha Morton) early--too early. On the road he meets a Belgian part-time journalist, Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), and they fall uneasily in love. He's not strong enough to decide between the two women. Fear that his disease will only get worse hounds him, and the fits go on. Riley is fascinating to watch as he undergoes an increasingly visible meltdown. Other cast members are cyphers, though Joe Anderson, who has the role of Max in Taymor's Across the Universe, is the lead guitarist. Morton has a drab role but Deborah's unfortunate situation is present as a constant counterpart to Ian's story. The two other important characters are the Manchester music guru Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) and the band's wise-guy manager Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell).

    The creative inspiration of the band, the nature of their songs, the cast of their lyrics, the reason why Joy Division is a cult band today when it only existed for four years--these are matters the film is unable to elucidate. Watch it for the cool visuals, for the tall, soulful Sam Riley, and for the terrific live performance scenes. Enjoy the understatement, and the silence. Don't expect more.

    Harvey Weinstein has chosen both for Control and for the soon-to-open Todd Haynes Bob Dylan film I'm Not There to have a slowly-unrolling distribution system, and hopes to bestow early cult status on both films by having them premiere at that temple of cinephilia, Film Forum, in lower Manhattan, New York City, and wait for the buzz of the cognoscenti to multiply and spread. It may work. But both films are tough sells. But A.E. Scott of the NYTimes has said Control is "enigmatic and moving, much in the manner of Joy Division's best songs." And that's a good send-off.
  • Making the leap from photographer to music video director to film director, Anton Corbijn's feature length debut 'Control' is quite simply stunning. Shot entirely in black and white it tell the story of Ian Curtis the lead singer with Manchester band Joy Division but its also much more than that it also tells of one mans journey into the heart of darkness (Apocalypse Now is mentioned in the film) a journey of fear, paranoia, illness and depression. Curtis has been played in films before but only as bit parts (24 hour party people etc) here he is portrayed breathtakingly by Sam Riley who played Mark E Smith in 24 hour party people and when he first appears on the screen I have to admit I wasn't convinced but as Ian the person grows so too does Riley into the role and at times he has him so down to a tee its hard to imagine its not the real Curtis up there. The rest of the band are pretty good as well but are only really second fiddle to Riley but you have to give them credit for learning all the songs and playing them live rather than mime. Samantha Morton is great as the put upon wife Deborah and Craig Parkinson is convincing enough as Tony Wilson but apart from Riley's stand out performance its Toby Kebbell as manager Rob Gretton who has some of the best lines and has come so far since his role in 'Dead Man's Shoes'. The cinematography is a visual feast for the eyes, being shot in black and white adds to the mood and gives a haunting feel that echo's the music and lyrics of the band, it also means (and I guess its Corbijn's photography background) that so many of the shots in the movie could be still images they are framed so well. Although never really explained in terms of answers, Curtis's illness from the seizures to the depression and the hopeless sense of falling apart reminded me of Catherine Deneuve in Polanski's 'Repulsion' another black and white film that deals with madness. I guess that treating mental illnesses was still in its infancy in the seventies, yes we'd stopped electro-shocking people but medications were still being developed and trialled. It seems it was very easy for Curtis to reach a certain point what with juggling home, life on the road, his condition and the pressure of increasing fame but when it came to helping him out he really was on his own and did feel a sense of 'isolation'. But with a story that has a widely known end point its more about the journey and here Corbjin punctures the narrative with some truly witty moments while leading up the incredibly moving and inevitable finale. Handled brilliantly by all involved this is another example of a great British film that deserves all the accolades it is receiving and if this performance is anything to go by expect Riley to be very big indeed.
  • Anton Corbin has created a film that perfectly showcases both the music of Joy Division and the short but fruitful life of Ian Curtis. The choice to film in black and white was the right one. It sets the tone perfectly for Ian Curtis' gray and lifeless hometown of Macclesfield in 1973.

    Corbin as a first time director excels utilizing his visual and technical skills from his previous life as a music video director. Thankfully Control is not just a beautiful looking movie but a perfectly pitched study of the rise and tragic fall of the tortured Ian Curtis. The intensity of the live music performances in the film are as visceral as those of the real band. It is a credit to the actors that they played everything live on screen, it serves to create memorable performances.

    Sam Riley delivers a towering performance as Curtis. The first time actor is a name to watch. He is surrounded by a great cast but the film is carried on Riley's shoulders.His inner turmoil is conveyed with great humanity and realism. The audience was still and quiet for quite some time after the credits rolled at the screening I attended.

    There are some very clever and touching uses of the music in the film. Corbin uses the intensity of Curtis' lyrics to help paint a biographical picture of the man. The use of 'Love will tear us apart' in the movie was particularly inspired giving the context of the scene it was played in. I hope you will go see this powerful and moving film to see what I am talking about.
  • I read the reviews of this film and decided it was worth a punt. I have to say that although I was in Manchester during the 1970s I was not a fan of Punk music. This film is beautifully made - almost like a 1950/60s kitchen sink film of the gritty north (there are worse places than Macclesfield, believe me!). I don't know Joy Divsion's work but the acting in this film by the major players was excellent. Sam Riley as Curtis is very very good as is Samantha Morton as his downtrodden wife. I thought the guy who played the manager was a bit OTT. What a shame that Tony Wilson died before this was released. My reaction to it was much like the one I had to Trainspotting. I was convinced that I wouldn't like it but came away feeling that this was a very important film. Even if you don't know Punk music or Joy Division - go along. Well worth it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I was fortunate enough to live in Seattle and witness firsthand the grunge movement, so the explosion of a musical scene--as what happened with post-punk in Manchester, U.K. in the 70s--fascinates me, and I've been catching up with all that post-punk music that I missed out on back in the day. I loved Joy Division's dark sound and wondered why they didn't have a larger oeuvre of work. A little research revealed the reason to be lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide on the eve of the band's American tour in 1980. This intrigued me with Curtis and the band, and I thought Joy Division had the makings of a good movie. And it does, but this is not that movie. Having seen it I am amazed at the plethora of great reviews this film has gotten. It is perhaps the most mundane film ever made about rock and roll music! If a person had no knowledge of rock music and was first introduced to it through this film, he would think that it was a product not of rage and angst, but tedium and solitude.

    "Control" is unnecessarily filmed in black and white in the hopes of fooling dilettantes into believing it is high art, and given the rave reviews from American critics, it succeeds in its foolery. Director Anton Corbijn has used b&w in previous films with rock subjects only to make the film look artistic because he has no cinematic idiom of his own. Corbijn never makes use of the shadows and light that are the very point for a modern filmmaker to us b&w. Moreover, this film needs to be in color to capture the grit and decline of Manchester in the period. Speaking of which, the film never seems to step foot in any place but a bland suburb. To understand these characters and their motivations we need to see the decline of the industrial titan that was Manchester, but we see only modest homes and verdant lawns. Just what dreadful life were they responding to with their music? The characters in this film live rather decently in what appears to be a bucolic setting. Even when the band makes a trip to London we only see shots of them in their car going to and fro. This is perhaps the most anti-urban film ever made about an urban subject.

    Even worse, there is no sense of a musical community, and that is a grave crime given the burst of energy that emanated from Manchester in that period. If this film is to be believed, Joy Division seemed to exist in a vacuum, with inspiration coming only from David Bowie and Sex Pistols records, with no acknowledgment to their peers and contemporaries.

    The entire genesis of creativity is given the short shrift as well. We see Curtis write poetry which presumably will become songs. He goes to his room and closes his door to shut himself off from the world, but we never see the world that influenced his need for solitude. Curtis is not portrayed as a tortured soul--which undoubtedly he must have been--but as an easygoing bloke who doesn't even seem to disdain his civil service job. Sam Riley does well enough in his role as Curtis, but never breaks through. You keep waiting for him to show us the magic but he only manages to during the concert scenes. But then, how could any actor achieve that task? All Curtis does in this film is mope.

    Samantha Morton, so good in other work, is still good here but she isn't given much to do. The dissolution of her marriage happens fairly easily and without much complaint from her character. Toby Kebbell stands out as the band's manager Rob Gretton. Sadly he breathes the only excitement and energy into this whole enterprise. I would comment on the other band members but I couldn't tell one from the other. Whatever friendship existed between them was not brought to the screen, and the other three band members are as much a backdrop as the sets. This movie would suggest that they were of no consequence, when in fact they went on to form New Order and rise to the prominence for which Joy Division seemed destined.

    Even the film's title is a cryptic cop out. Joy Division's breakthrough hit was "She's Out of Control," but unlike "Love Will Tear Us Apart," it didn't reach a seminal status. Is "Control" a reference to Curtis' seizures? His personal life running astray? If so, how is his experience unique enough to give this movie such a definitive one-word title? How is he in any less control of his life than Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, or Michael Hutchence were of their own? The title is generic, and one can only guess that the movie was not called "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (which would have been incredibly apt) because of contractual issues.

    The biggest surprise about this film is that in spite of all its tepidness, it has received great reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. "Control" had an 87% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes! Anton Corbijn has fashioned a movie about rock music that is devoid of any of the energy, zest or verve of the musical form. This film isn't the least bit enlightening about Ian Curtis, Joy Division nor Manchester's post-punk music scene. It is blandly made, employs stock moments from biographical films and only engages the viewer on a few occasions. Corbijn has a history of making movies about great rock subjects (U2, Depeche Mode) and draining every bit of life out the bands and their music. Now he has done the same for Joy Division. Skip right by "Control" and go directly to the documentaries, "Joy Division" or the BBC produced "Factory: From Joy Division to Happy Mondays."
  • About a third of the way through watching Control, it occurred to me: if this film were about somebody who wasn't famous, it would be absolutely dull. As depicted in this film, Ian Curtis was a very uninteresting person. Besides being the lead singer of Joy Division (and I will take nothing away from the music) he did nothing extraordinary with his life. Nor was he an extraordinary person. He displayed no feats of courage, no wit, he didn't stand for anything, was indecisive, lacking in charm, passionless, an atrocious father, rarely smiled, and possessed no ambition. I can see why he killed himself.

    So the question remains: why are we watching this film?

    I have the feeling that there was a lot more to Ian Curtis than nice cheekbones, intense stage presence and epilepsy. And if not, then a point should be made of that. Is this the story of the shy kid who wanted to be David Bowie but then couldn't handle the fame? Was it just the pills that sent him spiraling? Is it a comment on just how normal he actually was? This film has no angle. The acting is excellent. The black and white photography is lovely. The sound design is superb. But all these components are masking the fact that this is simply an astonishingly banal script. There were scenes and dialogue that left me scratching my head, thinking why did we have that? It feels like a first draft. There is no drama in most scenes - for example, the exchanges Ian and Anook are incredibly lifeless.

    In spite of all this, the film is utterly convincing. It's just also utterly uninspired. I think I will read a Curtis biography now and find out what really made him tick.
  • be brutally honest, it was terrible. The film was really very weak and didn't entice in any way. The thing looked quite nice, all black and white monochrome photography, but even that was only good in spurts.

    Full of rock biopic cliché's, it was simply too easy to watch, a factor that jarred considerably with the dynamic that made Joy Division (and Ian Curtis) appeal to such a vast amount of people. This dynamic, typified by eerie and haunting atmospheres(excuse me) which seem horribly alienating at first but ultimately draw you in with the accurate depiction of the depths and despair of the human mind, is something that sets the band apart from the crowd. They created their own unique sound that transcended boundaries and created a new strand of punk music. This film was an opportunity to apply that ethic to another medium, to truly realise the essence of the man and the band.

    The line (paraphrasing): "It feels like its somebody else, just wearing my skin" is indicative of the films outward appeal and its mainstream tendencies. In fact, the film is far more malignant and sinister than Curtis' own dissolution.

    A travesty. The good bits(or the bits that weren't really bad), which were mainly the parts where the band were playing gigs, only served to make you feel horribly let down at how good the film could have been and how much of an injustice the source material had been paid.

    The casting seemed good on paper, having an unknown playing the main part and giving Samantha Morton a supporting role as the suffering wife. But it just didn't work. Morton was a cliché of the down-trodden and doting wife, all watery eyed and desperately attempting to put their problems out of her mind, and Sam Riley was far too much like a certain more modern 'punk icon', Pete Doherty. It was bizarre, I couldn't get him out of my mind, the big drawn eyes, the wiry gangly frame, the cocky charm, the theatrically wistful stare, it was ridiculous... And from what's been written, nothing like Ian Curtis; he wasn't attractive, he wasn't likable; he was an ugly, cold, self-involved person, and knew it.

    I won't mention the rest of the cast, as I feel I may just sound like an angry Joy Division fan. Suffice to say, the earlier comment about rock biopic clichés applies.

    I was so disappointed, thought it was going be good and it just wasn't. Simple as that. And I hate it when films try to condone suicide, its such a pathetic thing to do, the guy had plenty of people who cared about him, but still he screwed them all over. Some would argue that it doesn't condone it, it simply shows it, but this I would disagree with.

    Saying that, go see it, the songs are played well for the most part(the band who play Joy Division are actually a Leeds band in real life, and actually play the songs), and there are one or two really nice shots of Maccelsfield(!), particularly towards the start. One in particular of the couple sat under a tree just before he proposes sticks out. You may like it, I don't know, it seems plenty of people do for some reason!

    I appreciate that many will disagree with my opinions, which is fine, but just know that I care very much about cinema, and am very worried and disturbed when films such as this receive such acclaim.
  • this film misses the 2 most important parts of Ian Curtis's life: his profound and debilitating depression and the role Manchester played in his development.

    the doc JOY DIVISION does much better in capturing Curtis and the band at their most honest.

    CONTROL is clichéd and third-rate. it's a joy division movie with stock characters not real people and it could've been directed by a b-director like Taylor hackford. it's also way too family friendly and eager to please everybody: Ian's wife, Deborah; the band; Martin Hannett. much of the jokes and key moments of the film are taken directly from Michael Winterbottom's much better film 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE.

    Curtis's daughter wrote a great assessment of the film in the Guardian...,,2181041,00.html
  • Corbijn is a Photographer.He likes Black and white atmosphere's. That's about the only thing I could ' enjoy ' in this honestly extremely meager film.An assumption Corbijn himself must know , is that to be a Filmmaker takes a totally other discipline (IMO) than to be a still photographer. This Film lacks a lot of elements that make it interesting. Anton Corbijn is no film director.He did'nt succeed to put any depth into the character of Ian Curtis nor in any of the others.... Corbijn did not succeed in enfolding the mystery of Curtis's struggle with life.He doesn't get beyond atmospherically sketches , which might work in a photograph , but which do NOT work in this film. I am amazed by the positive way this received. Anton Corbijn certainly did not put any dept in the existence of the great music by the Joy Division. IMO it would have been better to have left that story to what is was.

    I honestly cannot see what extra load has been put to the sad life and death of a seriously depressed person , who happened to be a Cult Singer and who decided to end his , in his view , miserable life.

    ps:even the 'darkness'of Ian Curtis's life has no layer whatsoever in this film.utterly hollow and thin.I mean Corbijn does certainly not succeed in showing us the conditions as to what drove Ian to his death. I mean , Ian was very depressed ,but nowhere in the film ,apart from 2 or three occasions where a voice-over tells his ' dark ' view at the world , does this fact become eminent.

    I could enjoy some of Anton's frame compositions , his photographic view , but that's about all that.

    If mend to be an Ian Curtis character study....a total failure.
  • Making an auspicious feature film debut, Anton Corbjin brings the same wonderful sense of essence and truly understanding to his subject matter in "Control". What I've loved over the years with Corbjin's work as a photographer is how he manages to capture the essence and spirit of his subject matter whatever it may be. He does this to a remarkable degree in "Control".

    "Control" is a biopic/portrait of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the Manchester band Joy Division. Just as the band was beginning to build a name for itself, Curtis took his own life in 1980. He was only 23 years old.

    With any biopic where the central character is deceased, there lies the inherent problem of maintaining audience interest when the conclusion of the story is known. Corbjin does this beautifully via a number of things he does in "Control". The very striking cinemascope black and white photography has a very warm and tactile feel to it. It sounds like a cliché, but one feels that time and place that the film depicts.

    The extraordinary cinematography is combined with a strong, sympathetic script and wonderful performances from a largely unknown cast. Sam Riely is an absolute revelation as Ian Curtis. Having only seen this actor in a small role in Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People", which covered some of the same ground that "Control" does, Riely really holds the screen as Curtis. While not physically identical, he absolutely manages to capture Curtis' feeling of displacement and depression. Definitely a young actor to watch.

    The only 'name' actor in the film is Smantha Morton, who plays Ian's wife Debbie. An exceptional actress who doesn't disappoint here. The actors who play the other members of Joy Division are quite effective and bring a welcome sense of humour and gravity to what is, at times, an intense and depressing story.

    Highly recommended. My pick of 2007 so far.
  • Like everyone else, I loved the look of this movie. Beautiful, very artistic, Black and White shots were a joy to behold.

    The story was good too, riveting in parts, although kind of predictable, well if you were a fan of Joy division, you know the story. LOL.

    Not the Savior of British cinema as everyone is making it out to be.

    But sumptuous (sp?) visuals, and some good acting elevates this above the average movie, what more do you want?

    Well worth seeing, but don't expect a ground-breaking film and you will enjoy it immensely.
  • I won't be long. I am a huge fan of the band, and I stayed a little disappointed figuring out that the movie is mostly about Ian's sentimental life.

    Romanticizing Curtis probably made a horde of new fans, but I think there must have been more depth in that person than the film showed.

    Not to mention other characters that are so poorly given trough the movie it seemed a bit strange...

    I did like some scenes, I still recommend the film, especially if it will make one a fan of Joy Division!

    And please, do watch 24 hour party people...I was amazed by the character of T. Wilson who seemed like quite a prick in this film. In 24 hour party people Tony was described as a ludistic character capable of inventing quite a lot...
  • I'm reminded of why biopics generally fail when they attempt to present some objective truth about their subjects based on the subjective impressions of people that knew them: the inner lives of others, even that one person we are closer to than anyone else, remain mysteries to us. Control's Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) is composed of the recollections of his widow, Deborah Curtis, who shares co-writing credit and served as the film's executive producer. Like Hari in Solyaris who is incomplete because she's only a manifestation of Kris Kelvin's impressions of her, there appears to be nothing more to Ian than what Deborah believes to be the truth about him.

    While Ian remains incomplete, Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), the third party in this love triangle, is reduced to a cipher. We know nothing about her, and she appears to know nothing about Ian. Months into their relationship she implores him to open up by telling her his favorite film and color. That this conversation is the most intimate that they have beyond a clichéd marrying-young-is-a-mistake confession within hours of meeting, demonstrates how completely the deck is stacked against empathy for Annik and by consequence against understanding Ian's interest in Annik. The conclusion Control would have us draw is that Ian's tryst with Annik was the product of little more than base sexual desire muddled with repulsion at the banality of life with Housefrau Debbie Samantha Morton) and baby. This does a disservice to Ian, Annik and, ultimately, Deborah.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Two years spent salivating on this project. Anton Corbijn directs a biopic about Ian Curtis! Can life get any better? ooh well. It came out as a weird documentary with maximum emphasis on two aspects at opposite end of the spectrum and, unfortunately, some shallowness in the middle.

    It's directed by whom I consider the best living photographer; I've been a lifelong fan. And he won't disappoint me about his visual talent: every single scene in CONTROL is visually perfect, pure Corbijn, perfectly balanced black and whites, nearly mathematical composition (a scene of Curtis asleep at his work table made me gasp for its total formal beauty, algebra in black and white).

    Beautiful, are they? Imagine two hours of this- - - - - The mind never really gets into the flow of the story (at least, MY mind never did): it was like watching that Corbjin exhibition in Groningen in 2000, where I walked slack-jawed in the museum halls. As much as I love Corbjin's work, I find that his virtuossism here may be distracting if you're a fan.

    So, the cinematography is outstanding. The other outstanding thing is the acting by this kid I've never heard, Sam Riley, (born in 1980 bless him), who plays Curtis. At the beginning one is suspectful: the kid is way too cute, one fears that his good looks will be distracting. But you slowly come to respect and admire his performance: he has Curtis nailed down. (We must remember that the movie is based on Curtis' wife's memories, and she may have quite a chip on her shoulder, but the other members of the band AND Tony Wilson are VERY much alive and kicking, so I trust that all the facts are punctual and realistic).

    This is, simply, the story of a weak kid who got himself in a situation that was too big for himself, and he didn't know the way out. "When everything was simpler", as he says around the end of the movie, he had hastily married and had a child; he was in a small band and playing gave him pleasure. Then things became too much: he developed epilepsy, the drugs for it were a constant torture and made him drowsy, he fell asleep at work, lost his job; he quickly got tired of his wife and showed no kind of emotional relationship with his little daughter (whom he only looks at with disconcert; she is another cause of his losing control over his own life); a gorgeous Belgian lover quickly became more of a pain than a relief, as he obviously gets discovered by his wife, and he finds himself in the middle of a tug of war between the two women. Worst of all, "he is becoming quite famous now", but he has lost the enjoyment that music gave him, he thinks the public doesn't understand him, one night he actually refuses to go on stage (and when he finally does, the strain of it gives him an epileptic attack). In his view, there is nothing left living for. End of it.

    Sam Riley is surprisingly good at conveying Curtis' slow descent into hopelessness. The director sure makes him cry an awful lot, but one fears that Curtis was exactly like this in real life. He was simply a kid, too weak for the kind of life that he could have had and that looms over him like a threat more than a promise - global success, money, a loving wife, a daughter and God knows how many lovers, Belgian or not. Riley's performance is restrained, he never goes over the top, not even towards the end. I suspect that the son of the Calvinist pastor surely would never have allowed him; all the performances are dignified and restrained, even Samantha Morton as the very patient wife (perhaps too normal a wife for him? One gets the feeling they didn't really connect; "she loves to live in Macclesfield", Curtis whines) is not too emotive: this is a very everyday tragedy.

    So, the lead actor is good and the cinematography is good. What's left in the middle - the MOVIE itself - is a bit disappointing, more a documentary than a movie. Nobody explains us what was in the young musician's mind, HOW the band, who up to that moment had grown listening to glam rock - as the soundtrack lavishly proves - came out with such a different, restrained sound; the band gets more and more famous but we have no perception of that if not by some awkward dialogue ("boys, we're getting bigger! We're going to America!"), so the audience can't really feel what influence fame had on Curtis. Luckily there are no big musical moments, just snippets: after all this is not a movie about Joy Division, it's a movie about the strange, depressing and depressed boy who fronted it.

    Is it worth seeing? Oh yes, everyone will go. Non-Corbijn fans will have a better time than I did, because they will see the movie, not the cinematography. Would I buy the DVD and keep it forever? No. 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE is more effective in describing Curtis' short life with some emotion - and that was a *comedy*.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I just saw this film the other night at the Mill Valley Film Festival and have mixed feelings about it.

    First, its strongest point – the cinematography. The black-and-white photography on this film is top-notch, as one would expect from a film directed by an acclaimed photographer like Anton Corbijn. Although Corbijn is working with a d.p., Marin Ruhe, the look of the movie is clearly his, and the shots of people in relation to architecture, the angles, and the creative shots of light poles and other city features are all classic Corbijn. The biggest departure from Corbijn's signature look is that film doesn't go with the "overcooked" grainy look of his photographs.

    But as for the quality of the storyline, what can I say – its a biopic. Which is a genre with a lot of limitations and one that is rarely spectacular. "Control" is no exception in this regard, telling a fairly linear tale of a tortured and self-destructive artist. Nothing much new here. Some of the use of musical cues are really ham-fisted, such as the scene where Curtis breaks it to his wife that he's no longer in love with her, which immediately segues into a montage built around "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again". (But considering that Corbijn is the same person who directed the visually evocative, yet schmaltzy video for "Atmosphere" back in the 80s, this isn't surprising.)

    The film also makes for an interesting comparison with Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People", a very different movie that nonetheless is about many of the same characters and events. Given that Winterbottom's movie came out only 5 years earlier than "Control", many of the events in "Control" are quite familiar to the audience from the earlier movie, and its interesting to see how "Control" handles this. In several cases, such as the scene that shows the initial meeting of Tony Williams and Ian Curtis, the scenes play out more or less the same, but are shown from Curtis' point of view rather than Williams. In fact, the scene in which Williams signs a contract with Joy Division in his own blood is even included in "Control", even though this is apparently an apocryphal story that was made up for "24 Hour Party People".
  • jamesj064 November 2007
    Control - as other people have said - did look great. (Although the black and white, while arty, made it seem like world war two. Wouldn't late 70s colour capture the era better, like in their wedding photos?)

    But, more importantly, it was just so telemovie.

    First, like lots of mediocre bio pics, it was 'this big event happened, then this big event happened ...', in chronological order, so it was clunky and melodramatic.

    Secondly, we had no emotional connection with Curtis' distress. Clearly Curtis couldn't talk about his pain in any enlightening way - yet the movie relied on him *explaining* why he felt this way! So it was basically being popular meant there was pressure. Or something like that. No sense of anything more profound. We did see he wanted to sleep with two women at once. And he took medication. But that was it.

  • If it weren't for the music, or if this movie wasn't about Joy Division, it would probably get a 6 out of 10. It's true, it's got some great black and white shots, quite nice use of music, both Joy's and Bowie's -though "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was too obvious- and Sam Riley's and Toby Kebbell's performances are also good. But that doesn't make a great film.

    Go watch "24 Hour Party People". This should get you in the whole Manchester mood. It seemed to me (a Greek music lover far from the Manchester scene both locally and chronologically) a much much more enjoyable and honest film.

    Conclusion? Not a bad movie, i recommend it so you may have your own opinion, actually made me shiver in one or two occasions... But that's because it was about Joy Division. The bad news: soulless, skin-deep, in fact a non-existent script (haven't read Deborah Curtis' book to compare), everyone's characters but Ian's are poorly portrayed... Copycating older footage doesn't make you a director.

    7 out of 10 solely for the music and the live performances
  • jebrooke10 October 2007
    Warning: Spoilers
    I think I'd give this a miss unless you are a fan. I feel that given the plaudits it is earning it is overrated.

    It looks great and central performances are superb, particularly Samantha Morton and Toby Kebbell as the wise-cracking band manager.

    Against it was a second hour that dragged, particularly because predictable key scenes played out without much imagination; the birth of Curtis's daughter, his wife confronting him about his infidelity and his wife's discovery of his body.

    I felt it didn't really add anything to the idea that having epilepsy in the 1970s was a bad thing, depression is a bad thing and that marrying young then falling in love with someone else is a bad thing. Worst of all it draws to a close as some kind of weird suicide porn, meticulously detailing his humdrum last hours for no apparent purpose other than to allow a little more build up to the suicide that all cinema-goers knew was coming before they bought the ticket. In the end I felt that rather than great cinema it was an ad-man's technically skillful but artistically bankrupt treatment of a biography.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ...not only in the U.S. of A. (where Joy Division was at best a cult band), but apparently in England as well, where the central character's band, Joy Division, was far more well-known. Such a shame, since "Control" is a well made, if somewhat slow-paced and (no surprise here) depressing film. Evocatively shot in black and white by Martin "The Countess" Ruhe, and directed by Depeche Mode (and others) video artiste, Anton Corbijn (also a former NME photographer and longtime Joy Division fan), "Control" limns the short, bleak life of Ian Curtis, the band's ill-fated lead singer.

    Beautifully acted by leads, Sam "On the Road" Riley and Samantha "Sweet and Lowdown" Morton, along with a fine supporting ensemble, "Control" paints a stark portrait of a young man unable to weather the intertwining conflicts of love, notoriety, and adult responsibility. It wasn't love that tore him apart, so much as it was (as the film's title seems to indicate) an inability to deal with his own poorly developed self-control. Being epileptic assuredly didn't help, no doubt exacerbating Curtis' depressions and sense of helplessness, but ultimately the final arbiter of his suicide was no one and nothing but his own fragile, conflicted will. He had a fine wife, a child, an expanding place in the sun, a vehicle for his creative impulse, and yet he couldn't help but throw it all away, first by betraying his family and ultimately by betraying himself. "Control" has plenty of moral questions to pose, and to the filmmakers' credit offers neither facile nor concrete answers. The sparse, linear screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (who's written another script now in production concerning John Lennon's early life) is based on a Curtis bio written by his widow (which I've not read), and feels fairly objective and non-judgmental, at least to this viewer. I suspect that the director's personal relationship with the Curtises had much to do with that.

    In a nutshell: absolutely worth a watch for Joy Division devotees, Morton and/or Riley fans, and lovers of small, effective character-driven cinema. Highly NOT recommended for puerile mainstream audiences who regard Transformers movies or gimmicky films like "Cloverfield" as high art.
  • hapiores25 November 2007
    It's surprising what a name can hide, what a word defines and what it leaves out. "Control" brings some light to late vocalist Ian Curtis, the man itself, behind Joy Division.What is often spoken is that he had a tragic death at the age of 24 with a suicide that ended a rather complicated life. Not being a true fan of J. Division and not knowing what it was about i was surprised by the young boy hiding behind that name, trying to find out his way through live the best he could. His youth mirrors every aspect of his life, from the impetuous choices he made to the early marriage and fatherhood or the passionate/silent relation with Annik. That's the center key for the whole movie, watching a young man trying to shape itself, trying to grow, coping with life, becoming aware of choices and trying, just trying, to be in control. All of this with a troubled personality. The black&white cinematography works perfectly to portray the dismayed dormitory cities in England's 1970's, pure urban voids where nothing interesting seemed to possibly grow; and surprisingly the background for cult bands of that time. It seems he never left those places.
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