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The International Writers Magazine: Brit Film 2007

Control (2007)
Writers Deborah Curtis and Matt Greenhalgh
Directed by Anton Corbijn

Russ Thomas

Starring Samantha Morton (Deborah Curtis) and Sam Riley (Ian Curtis)Control is the tragic story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), ex-frontman for Joy Division, his brief electric appearance onto the Manchester music scene in the late 1970s, and all the tears and joys attached with his rise and fall, until he committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 23.

Culturally, the film is splendid. It depicts Macclesfield and the Manchester area in all its gritty glory. The black and white filming emphasises the grey which would inevitably be the main colour of the town in any case – there is a feeling of despair around Ian Curtis especially as he lashes out against his background, against the people around him, and against himself. In true rock-and-roll style we almost never see Curtis without a cigarette in hand, and we constantly see in his character a man who has become a man too quickly. His short life is testament to the dying flames and the glowing embers of the punk era: live fast, die young.

But it is Ian’s self-destruction, Ian’s sensitive and fragile emotional state, not the lifestyle, that eventually leads to his demise. He is an offshoot of a culture obsessed with bands and good music, a lost child in amongst a crowd of, in his mind, ignorance. Introducing Curtis as a young closet-writer, writing poems and stories, will make the audience think of him as the ‘tortured artist’, rather than the onstage celebrity. Those in the music business are also exposed as seemingly uncaring, verging on callous, towards artists; certainly it was this culture in music that wore Ian Curtis down to the bone. As he says in the film, they didn’t know how much he gave when he was onstage, and then they wanted him to give more. He simply got caught up in something that began well enough and quickly got out of his control. This sparked a fall into a state of depression that led to his death, and every moment leading up to it is portrayed excellently by this film.

There are no shortages of emotional moments. The fact that it is shot entirely in black and white, rather than in colour, adds a certain gloomy, if sinister, undertone to the progression of the story; taking into account its conclusion, it works wonders and will not fail to sadden the audience. The acting is far above average and the characters are convincing and empathetic – the performances of Joy Division songs, especially, are fantastic. The soundtrack itself is fitting, of course, being compiled almost entirely of the Joy Division oeuvre. Today the film is relevant to modern society. Music is a large part of the youth today, and it shows the real side of a band, almost entirely ignoring the glamour. Perhaps it is trying to show that musicians never change; in another fifty years time you can imagine a similar film being made about Pete Doherty and The Libertines.

The directing cannot go without a mention as well; it is typically English: moody and thought-provoking. Each scene is shot fantastically, whether the audience sees Curtis up on a small stage dancing tirelessly with the band, or if we see his estranged wife Debbie (Samantha Morton) standing in silence unable to reach out to her husband. Control is a film well-worth seeing, even if you are not a particular fan of music, for the sheer portrayal of a culture and one man’s failing struggle to survive in it.
© Russ Thomas November 2007
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