Posted by: Ben | March 15, 2009

100 Movies: Control

(Film. Corbijn. UK, 2007)

It’s impossible to imagine what Joy Division must have sounded like while Ian Curtis was still alive and singing. Every sound they made comes with a built-in mental image of the man, his life and his suicide. Most of those images are in black and white, and look like a Corbijn photo. Corbijn has an eye for an arresting image, and is wholly responsible for Bono, at least in my mind, and the stark black-on-white lines are such a fit for the music that you have to remind yourself that it all really happened in colour.


Ian Curtis decides not to pick up the phone booth.

In theory a film about gloomy black and white people being moody in the seventies should be bread and butter to the likes of Corbijn, who has certainly directed enough videos in this style. Parts of the film (the best parts) even look like a pop video.

This is not the archetypal tragic rock star story. Adapted from Deborah Curtis’ memoir “Ian Curtis: What A Complete And Utter Bastard”, it’s a fascinating account of the last two years of the life of someone who was desperately unhappy and who died ridiculously young. Furthermore there’s an unparalleled soundtrack, predominantly Joy Division and some quite uncanny cover versions from the actors. What it doesn’t do, mercifully, is pretend to depict the workings of Ian Curtis’ mind over that time. The viewer is presented with a series of events, some accurate and some exaggerated, and invited to draw their own conclusions. Was he just depressed? Was it the stress trying to reconcile the life of the touring band with his domestic life back in Macclesfield? Or did he just have a premonition that he would turn into Bono?

And like the music of Joy Division, the film sidesteps the usual pitfall of works that highlight the art of depressed and alienated people (which is that they tend to be depressing and alienating) with the judicious application of a gentle dusting of black humour, or at least what I choose to think of as black humour. This is a film that anyone with the slightest interest in pop music should see.

Sorry though, Anton, but you’re only getting four stars. I just can’t forgive you for Bono.

****

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