Control Anton Corbijn

Control Anton Corbijn

The arrival of two Joy Division films at once is no coincidence. Though the two are only connected by subject matter (and now a distributor), each of these works presents an intimate portrait of one of modern music’s most fascinating icons: Ian Curtis.

Control is the biopic, an immaculately envisioned piece of filmmaking by original Joy Division photographer and renowned music video director Corbijn. Based on the memoirs of Curtis’s wife Deborah, it’s an extremely personal project for the filmmaker, who chose to shoot a straight, unbiased film to document Curtis’s wild emotional breakdown. From his days working in the council job placement agency and forming the band with Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris after a Sex Pistols gig to the band’s rise in England’s music scene and the discovery of Curtis’s epilepsy, it’s a telling narrative that’s given added significance by Corbijn’s insistence on shooting in high-contrast black and white.

Newcomer Sam Riley (of former indie band 10,000 Things) is Curtis incarnate — from the haircut right down to the jerky signature dance, he’s frighteningly perfect as Ian, even singing with his real voice. Indie vet Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara play the women in his life with the utmost precision. The former is Deborah, his forlorn wife left to care for their daughter Natalie, and the latter is Belgian mistress Annik Honoré, whose aloof cool helped propel Curtis’s heart-breaking whirlwind. His quandary feels almost justified though, as Riley portrays a love-torn romantic instead of a brooding sulk, and Corbijn refuses to take sides, leaving the viewer to decide on the film’s morality.

Music fans will find Control wholly authentic; Matt Greenhalgh’s script includes such minute details as a cameo performance by punk poet John Cooper Clarke and a re-enactment of the tragic inspiration for "She’s Lost Control.” And yet Control has enough emotive weight behind it to deeply affect any filmgoer, be it an obsessive goth or an unacquainted newcomer.

Geared more towards music fans is Grant Gee’s Joy Division, which works as a more informative profile and companion to Control. Gee uses his visual design expertise to carry the band’s story, which is told through the eyes of Curtis’s band-mates, the late Factory Records’ founder Tony Wilson (who signed the band), the band’s graphic designer Peter Saville and a number of other key contributors.

Ian Curtis’s story may end in darkness but this doc is filled with all sorts of amusing anecdotes (many of which are performed in Control), especially from the mouth of bassist Hook, who provides plenty of laughs with his spirited memories.

Vintage television footage and contrasting photos of Manchester then and now set up the film’s atmospheric lustre, while a rather stirring audio recording with Curtis under hypnosis further demonstrates the haunting allure this heartbreaking story still holds for the music world. (Alliance Atlantis)