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.
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.
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
(The disturbed Ian Curtis of Joy Division)
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.
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.