Control revolves around the story of lead singer Ian Curtis and of the singer’s band, Joy Division. Though it is a thorough examination of the lead singer, the film contains some great re-enactments of the band’s live performances and Curtis’ unique and characteristic stage persona (played remarkably by actor, Sam Riley). While it’s primary purpose is perhaps the exploration of Curtis’ life within and outside of the band, the music itself is thrown out with incredible performances of ‘Transmission’, ‘She’s Lost Control’ and others, turning Control into a tribute to both Ian Curtis and Joy Division’s legacy. The film is both beautiful and haunting, filled with what it is to be human and what it is to be young in Manchester in the 1970’s. It is an extraordinary account of the music produced at this time by the band and the albums that came out of the band’s record label, Factory Records. At the same time, it presents itself as the definitive Ian Curtis biopic – complete with the affairs, epilepsy and the poetry of his short but highly influential existence.
The film was shot in colour and then printed in classic monochrome in an attempt to represent effectively the atmosphere stirred up by the music and the distinct era (very much defined by the distinct sounds that were emerging from all over North England at the time). The music is itself filled with colour and a flavour of the punk scene that was set to explode all over the country. The story of Joy Division is the story of a group that pretty much shaped everything that Britain became music-wise for decades to come: an obscene amount of influence can be found in the work of band’s like New Order, the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Oasis and everything that was good about the 80’s and 90’s.
Control – a title taken from the band’s hit ‘She’s Lost Control’ mainly focuses on Curtis, from his early working days to his marriage and the formation of Warsaw (later to become Joy Division), his fits of epilepsy to his affair and subsequent suicide. It is the strange, entertaining and harrowing account of a man’s life and an artist’s career told in a wholly honest and informed way. It transcends the straightforward rock biopic by looking deeper into the personal experiences of their main man with harsh vigour and a gentle undertone. While Riley carries the rhythm of the film with skill and style (and clearly having studied Curtis in great detail and to great lengths) Control delves into the depressing and straight-up tragic story of a troubled and overly-sensitive young musician whose life ended too young and whose talent spread out far. It is in this way that the film succeeds in maintaining an impressive balance that doesn’t falter even for an instant and moves the viewer with unexpected force.
The film featured at the Cannes film festival in 2007 and was received as it deserved to be, with great enthusiasm – though Peter Hook, co-founder and bassist of Joy Division made it known that he was disappointed with the applause at the end of the showing, preferring a ‘dignified silence’. The portrayal of maybe the shortest-lived great talent in music was one that moved those who knew his work and those who didn’t with exactly the same effect. Directed by Anton Corbijn – who also directed the video for the band’s re-release of ‘Transmission’ and knew the members personally -, written by Matt Greenhalgh and starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara, Control fast became recognized as an example of the best that British independent filmmaking had, and still has to offer.