Cinephiles Rocking their Faces Off

The trailer for Control (pardon the subtitles)

Music bio-pics (biography films) have been a dime a dozen lately: Jamie Foxx’s Oscar winning performance in Ray (Ray Charles) and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line (Johnny Cash), but these are trade mark names; pop-culture icons, superstars, some of 20th century music’s legends. However, a little black and white feature called Control by small-time/inexperienced music video director Anton Corbijn placed a grim yet extraordinary spotlight on an unsung punk-rock figure—Ian Curtis of Joy Division.

            This enigmatic character, Ian Curtis, began his creative life with poetry readings, studying Wordsworth, and like a fidgety teenager who couldn't stand stillness in life; he decided to get married at an early age of 18. After moving forward dangerously impatient with a pregnancy and keeping steady with dull job in an employment exchange in Manchester, UK, Ian Curtis decides to spice up his life by joining a band his mates formed earlier. This band would later evolve into one of Punk-rock’s birth marks in 1970’s England--Joy Division, raised in an era of bands including The Sex Pistols, Television, and the Buzzcocks. The feature biography Control doesn’t simply cover the birth and growth of a punk rock grandfather known for its beautiful and not so beautiful bottled passion, but puts the epileptic and insanely enigmatic lead singer Ian Curtis under the microscope with how his personal and professional life drove him to mental instability and eventual suicide at the age of 23.

            My younger 17-year old brother used to listen to Joy Division 3-4 years ago, but never paid it any mind (figuring it was just another Sex Pistol ripple effect), but when Control gripped my collar and shook me with such amazing music, I immediately became immersed in fascination for the band’s sound and story. First it was the music that compelled the audience with its tamed beat yet fiery lyrics, and then the man behind the music spilled through a broken glass image called: his mind. Ian Curtis was a mess; he couldn’t stay faithful to his wife and daughter, and still demanded his wife Deborah to stay. He constantly smoked and cried out of confusion and despair, but his pain made all the contribution his music needed to touch the souls of Joy Division’s fans. The internal conflict within Ian Curtis’ mind set off his epilepsy that got worse and worse, and even caused seizures during live shows. The most romantic thing about this band is that they lived in the shadow of The Sex Pistols and were a hair away from touring in the United States; an almost famous band.


                                     (The disturbed Ian Curtis of Joy Division)

    Another great element about this movie is the comic relief. Rob Getton, the acquired band manager played by Toby Kebbell, was so vulgar, so obnoxious, so filthy, and yet so clever, he stole the show and made the room erupt in laughter. Kebbell kept the film balanced, because the other half—the microscope look at Sam Riley’s performance as Ian Curtis was pretty bleak and frustrating. I say frustrating, because this guy went back and forth between his girlfriend and wife—to the point of people questioning his sanity. People grunted, but it wasn’t staged. The whole movie is based off a written account of Ian Curtis’ short life, and ironically written by his emotionally abused wife, Deborah played by the only name in this movie—Samantha Morton.

            The choice to film the movie in black and white was brilliant, because the lack of colors takes on its own shape inside Ian Curtis’ vexing consciousness. The shots of the band playing, wearing black hair, Curtis sucking on the mic just “worked” with the black and white effect. Hype and innuendos had been soaring about this flick for the past week here at the Cannes Film Festival, and it didn’t disappoint—the film even received standing applause. Then again, this is Cannes, France; full of journalist’s and habitual cinephiles. Ian Curtis’ suicide is just as troubling as an enigma, just like Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994—it didn’t involve excessive drug use debauchery or murder. Both rock icons simply couldn’t muscle the lifestyle and mentally. Tragic yet entertaining.

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