Review of Control
I'm still very much up in the air about this film, and I thought that sleeping on it would help. It didn't.
I do know two things for certain, though, that shaped my perception of the movie. (1) I didn't really have much interest in seeing a melodramatic story of Ian and Deborah Curtis' pitiful marriage (I wouldn't've had an interest in seeing anyone's) and (2) I wanted a biopic that made more sense to me. That is, I wanted a film where I leave it with a better understanding of, for example, why Ian was so terrible to his wife, where all those songs came from, why the couple didn't get a divorce, why he became involved in Factory Records, why ...
Control answered few of those questions. And maybe expecting that from the movie was too much. I suppose it was supposed to be about the other side of Ian Curtis; the side that lost control of his private life as he'd lost control of his public "rock-star" life; the side that was in love with two very different people; the side that had to deal with epilepsy in the realest of circumstances. I ended up being not as interested as I'd intended and hoped I'd be with any of the movie’s content, and that was the primary failing point.
Yes, it was a tremendously beautiful piece. Impeccable. I recommend seeing it in a theatre as none of the trailers, screen shots, or posters articulate the film's distant grandeur. It is the visual counter-part of and complement to a Joy Division song: cold, removed, and cavernous with attention paid to the minutest detail. Absolutely gorgeous.
I enjoyed some aspects of the movie (aside from the aesthetic element) quite a lot though so don't get me wrong. I loved the imagery of Ian returning home from tours as though he was returning from war, armed with his military duffel bag and all. I liked the morbid reference to Ian’s ultimate suicide-by-hanging in his perpetual fascination and noting of the clothes hanger that resided in the Curtis’ kitchen and that he eventually used to commit the deed. I liked the manager's line, "Cheer Up. Could be worse. Could be the lead singer of the Fall" (because (a) Sam Riley played Mark E. Smith in 24 Hour Party People and (b) not one pop music historian or critic hasn’t noted the obvious similarities between the two men). Cute. I was completely awed by the final performance during which Ian couldn't bring himself to performing in front of the ravenous crowd (“They keep wanting more from me. I’ve lost control”; “It used to be so simple.”) (The singer from Crispy Ambulance took his place for some part of the set.) To me, that final set (of which we only saw “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) was the most moving and memorable part of the film.
I didn't like how Factory Records was all but ignored. Tony Wilson looked like a fool -- more of a cheesy car salesman than a visionary -- and was barely in the film. Martin Hannett got about thirty seconds of time on screen and didn't really convey the sort of musical genius he undeniably had. I liked the band ... Peter Hook was cute and stoic; Bernard was goofy, shy, and quite the little boy. All in all, I wanted more of everything but Ian (and certainly not Debby), and not getting that underwhelmed me. Maybe had this movie been made before the legend began, maybe when we didn't all know that Joy Division, Tony Wilson, and all those guys were at the debut Sex Pistols show, maybe if we didn't know Ian suffered from epilepsy, maybe if we didn't know that he hung himself, maybe if those details hadn't be previously glamorized, romanticized, and exaggerated ... then maybe I would've fallen completely for the film. Not so.
In the end, I just wound up asking again, “What’s the story behind Joy Division?” and “How the heck did such beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and instrumentals come from a bunch of soccer-loving, beer-guzzling, rather unengaging Manchester lads?”
Below are three of my favorite songs by the Manchester quartet. The cut of "Passover" is remarkable in that it's a recently unearthed "personal" Martin Hannett mix. I believe it to be better than the version that made it onto the album. "New Dawn Fades" is from Still, the double LP that solidified Joy Division's immaculate, yet so far from perfect live performances. "Wilderness" is from the legendary Unknown Pleasures.
Joy Division - Passover
Joy Division - New Dawn Fades
Joy Division - Wilderness