27 October 2007, 9:17 am

I’m really glad I saw Control in a theatre, mostly because of Martin Ruhe’s stunning black & white cinematography. In fact, it was perhaps a little too stunning. One of the film’s opening shots, in which a young Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) slouches across the length of a grim, soulless apartment building, got me thinking about how well framed it was, and wondering what kind of lens was used to make the structural lines of the building look so parallel. Throughout I was often pulled out of scenes by observations like “the way the light picks up the texture of the plaster is incredible.” The photographic style is a perfect mirror for the band’s music — it balances the contradictions of simultaneous beauty and ugliness, remote chill and emotional intensity. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t lose a lot in transition to a small screen.

The music was also stunning. My personal highlight was a live snippet of The Sex Pistols’ blasting through “Problems” to represent the legendary Northern gig attended by Curtis, Stephen Morrissey, and other future lights of the Mancusian music scene. I don’t know where the clip came from or what sonic surgery was done to clean it up, but it’s the Pistols at their clangorous best, and it sounds fantastic. Even more impressive is that Riley and the actors playing drummer Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway), bassist Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), and guitarist Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) actually performed the music for the film’s scenes of Joy Division playing live. Their performances improve in both confidence and proficiency through the course of the band’s brief life, but they consistently make the band look worth making a fuss about.

As much more of a fan of the Fall than a Joy Division fan, I also chuckled at how many times The Fall’s name showed up on posters in backgrounds.

The film (sourced primarily from widow Deborah Curtis’ autobiography Touching from a Distance, which I haven’t read) certainly fills in some biographical details I didn’t know previously, mostly about the Curtis’s early courtship. It implicates Curtis’s epilepsy medication as at least a contributing factor in the depression that led to his suicide (it also implies that experiments in hypnosis with Sumner might not have helped, a theory I hadn’t encountered). But it doesn’t offer much insight into Curtis as an artist — he remains enigmatic and unknowable (perhaps fundamentally so). And director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh between them make some very disappointing choices. I presume anyone going to see “the Joy Division movie” is going to know in advance how it ends, and I think the film’s conclusion would have had more impact if it hadn’t been so bluntly telegraphed.

Dept. of Weird Synchronicity: One of the scenes in a club features a live performance of John Cooper Clarke’s “Chickentown.” We came home and watched the second episode of the last half-season of The Sopranos, and guess what song plays over its closing credits? Cue the Twilight Zone “do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do.”


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