Saturday, October 27, 2007

CONTROL: Joy Division tunes and every shot a gorgeous photograph

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Saw CONTROL tonight, the biopic about the musical life and conflicting loves of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band Joy Division. Had some JD fans and non-fans in the away party—In, Rowan, Kim, Jeff, and Al. Myself, I'm kind of an amateur fan, familiar with and dig most of the music, but mostly clueless about the story and history of the band and its members.

* October 30, 2007. For an excellent, more musically informed and fan-minded take on the film, please check out designfemme's very fine write-up.

It's the first feature film directed by Anton Corbijn, who's known better until now as a photographer and director of music videos for the likes of U2, Joy Division, Nirvana, and Depeche Mode. I knew his name as a photographer and figured he'd done music videos, but didn't know the extent of his video experience until discussing with Kim after the movie.

I enjoyed the movie for many reasons, but the cinematography is probably the greatest. This guy Anton is a damn good photographer. I felt that every freakin shot in this film was framed for thoughtful and striking composition. No doubt the black and white helped trick my brain into paying attention to just that.

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis is brilliant. He plays the gifted sensitive pretty Brit alien boy to perfection. If you're familiar with concert footage and video of the band's performances, you'll see that he channels the original's attitudes and demeanor uncannily.

For fans of the band, I imagine this film will be a hit. The musical performances are very well done (all the actors perform and play their own instruments for the film and soundtrack) and shot and don't have any of that annoying but almost standard m.o. crazy pan/depth of field crap that you always see in films with concert footage. Granted, the device works for certain bands/subjects/films (I remember feeling its coolness impact way back in THE COMMITMENTS), but it would not have fit this one.

For non-fans, I think it's a toss-up. It's a decent story, but, it's also something of a cliche of one, as far as talented rock star stories go. It's the same problem/truth I had with CASH. I mean, just imagine writing your own rise-to-stardom-only-to-burn-out-too-soon rock star story. Humble beginnings. Maverick attitude coupled with knowing and confident talent. Purity of heart. A true love. Breaking into the biz. Marriage and maybe a family, probably too soon. Life on the road and growing success straining that home life. Temptations of stardom on all fronts escalating... until... an encounter with another true love, or an addiction, or both. Losing control and slipping into a downward spiral. Repeat, ad lib, and fade...

That the story can be reduced to cliche formula shouldn't be counted as a strike against the film. It's true to its story, at least as told by Curtis's wife, as the film is based on her book. Cliches often become cliches for a reason, right? I mean, we have the phrase "tortured artist" in common use, don't we? So, the tragic story of this artist could be the tragic story of almost any great artist. This particular cinematic telling features some great music and visuals, tho. Perhaps the most interesting and unique parts of the details of this rendering of the cliche are the context that they provide for certain songs that Ian writes and performs at those points in his life.

I remember that being one of the great things about CASH. When I was watching the movie, and JC performed "Ring Of Fire," for the first time I understood (or at least, for the first time I *thought*) that the ring he was singing about was a wedding ring. That sorta blew my mind.

Perhaps I'm easily impressed.

Sadly, the loves of Ian's life—wife Debbie, played by the magickal being known as Samantha Morton, and mistress Annik—come off as rather flat. We know that he falls for them, but honestly, once the film's done, you will likely not be able to explain to anyone why. (But perhaps that's love...?) On the other hand, Ian himself, along with his bandmates, manager, and distributor, are all lively and damn entertaining characters. Their repartee keeps things light between Ian's darker self-destructive moments.

I highly recommend the film for fans of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. I also push it strongly at anyone who enjoys a good musician's or artist's biopic, particularly if you appreciate a pretty looking picture on your giant rectangles of light. If you're not so much into any of the above, I'd say you can pass. Without an appreciation of the band and the music, or the likelihood of getting caught up in the photography of these characters in their often stark and bleak environments, you'll likely feel the pace of things to be very slow. Although if you know a friend who's eager to see it, go with, and soak in some of the fan's afterglow if you can.

Reader beware, *SPOILERy* remarks follow, mostly just facts and film moments I want to remind myself of before they slip thru my colander of a memory. If you'd rather not spoil your appetite for the film, stop reading here.

The name "Joy Division," according to Ian in the film, was taken from the name of a WW2 brothel frequented by soldiers of the something-or-other. I'd always thought it was an anti-war play on military jargon, y'know?

* Looked up some more on "Joy Division" and it's from the novel HOUSE OF DOLLS, the name given to brothels of prisoners-turned-prostitutes from Nazi concentration camps, made to serve Geman soldiers.

There are so many gorgeously composed shots in this film, but the one that jumped back into my head at the end of the film when comparing notes with other was of Ian looking out the second floor window of his flat, down onto the street, where his wife Debbie passes, walking away, pushing their baby girl Natalie in her pram.

The pram was pretty frickin creepy in a number of scenes. In the black and white picture, it appeared deep and dark blackest black. Ominous and creepy.

I'd heard of how Ian Curtis ultimately did himself in, but I could never picture it. The movie doesn't show you his final fate, but gave me all I needed to picture it, and it was not how I imagined.

I'm always struck by how methodical certain accomplished artists are about pursuing and advancing their craft. In his childhood bedroom, we see that Ian's got two boxes on his desktop, one labelled "Bowie," another labelled "Roxy / Ferry," each filled with piles of newspaper and magazine clippings. Also on his desk are a number of three ring binders. On their spines: "Poems."

Keep on keepin on~

1 comment:

design femme said...

heads up! there's a legit docu on Joy Div that's out... not widely released, however... but check it:

http://www.cinematical.com/2007/09/11/tiff-interview-joy-division-director-grant-gee/

(not to be confused with upcoming war drama
http://www.joydivisionfilm.com/ either.

Oy. Head spinning with all the titles...)