The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A life out of control

with 22 comments

Peter Bradshaw, one of the film critics at The Guardian, said about Control that there’s a roar of energy in it. “I thought it might depress me. Instead I left the cinema walking on air”.

I would be tempted to ask what he had been smoking, or rather, considering some of the content of the movie, what medication he was on, but I won’t. We all respond differently to movies and perhaps he was just a fan of Joy Division who got a huge kick out of hearing all those songs again.

My own reaction to this film, which follows Ian Curtis’ life from 1973 to 1980, ending with his suicide at age 23, was quite the opposite.

I couldn’t have been more drained of energy if I just had been kissed by a dementor.

As I was contemplating the final shot – black smoke drifting up in the sky from a crematory building – I search for something to say to my 17 year daughter who had joined me in the watching. We needed something to bring us back to a sunnier valley than the one we’d been exploring the last two hours. But I couldn’t come up with anything. “Well, that was depressing.” I blurted out finally. “Yeah, it was”, she replied, adding: “But good.” And to that I nodded in agreement. Then we sank back to silence.

Keeping a distance
I kept thinking about Ian Curtis. About his issues – his broken family life, the epilepsy, his unhappiness that just increased as his band got more successful. Out of control of his life he took control over the only remaining thing that he thought he could control – the decision to put an end to it. And I thought about the people that were left behind – his wife Deborah, their one year old daughter and his other woman Annik. An ocean of sadness. I tried to keep a little bit of distance between the water and me. Observing, but not making their sadness into my own. I let it lick my toes. But no further than that.

The film had done the same thing: kept a bit of distance. Or perhaps it was Ian Curtis who kept the distance to everyone. Was there ever anyone on the world that really knew him (to the extent it’s possible to know someone else)?

We never get close. But perhaps we get a tiny little bit closer. At least we get to see different sides of Ian Curtis.

He wasn’t just that stereotypical rock icon who lives hard and dies young. The film shows him  at his work at an employment agency, a job he seemed to be doing pretty well until the double job with increasing amounts of nightly gigs got too much for him to handle. We see at the hospital when his daughter is born, aware of the duties of a father, but at the same time terrified like a little boy, wanting to escape from it all. While we don’t get into his mind, apart from what he shares in the song texts, at least we see that his life was more than just what took place on stage.

No romanticizing
I loved Control.

I loved it for refraining from being a shallow celebration of an icon, for not romanticizing anything, for not contributing to the kind of myth that young fans of rock stars who commit suicide love to nourish. It’s all in black and white, but the shades of gray are so many that you one moment find yourself muttering “what a bastard” when he lies to his wife and the next moment you feel sorry for him for being tore apart by love, unable to choose, unable to live with it and without it.

I loved it because Sam Riley is so jawdroppingly excellent as Ian Curtis. Well, actually the entire band is excellent. Instead of just playing the original recordings with Joy Division, they let the actors perform as the band, and they do it so well that it’s hard to believe that this is just actors and that James Anthony Pearson, who plays the guitarist, learned to play the instrument in two months, just because of the movie.

I loved it because it’s so beautifully shot, in a style that fits the music and the content just perfectly. There are YouTube clips showing the original Joy Division playing in color television, but that doesn’t look half as good and fitting as this movie. I suppose it was expected, considering that the director Anton Corbijn before this debut movie made a career as a photographer.

Taking a deep breath
Not all movies make you leave the theatre walking on air. Some movies make you grasp for air. You can still love them.

Finally I rose from the couch and opened the door to the garden. I heard a blackbird singing in the far distance. Darkness had fallen and I could barely discern the big ash tree that guards, shades and trashes our garden in equal proportions. But I felt its presence and I took a deep breath and I suddenly realized how grateful I am to still be in the land of the living.

My life may or may not be under control. Regardless of which, I think I can manage.

Control (Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Control

22 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I loved it as well. And you’re right, it’s totally draining. A film I was so glad to have seen, but I can easily wait another 5 years before seeing again.

    You should check out 24 Hour Party People. More about their manager, but it’s actually a comedy from the same team as The Trip. I know you didn’t like that one, but I think 24 Hour People is far stronger. Even if you don’t laugh I think you’ll find the story and the meta style of it interesting.

    Corey Atad

    May 3, 2012 at 1:09 am

    • I actually own it and I’m not quite done with it yet. There’s some extras I’d like to see and I might check out the commentaries. A commedy about this sounds a bit weird, but perhaps I should check it out. Even though the connection to The Trip, as you pointed out makes me a bit sceptic.


      May 3, 2012 at 6:58 am

      • It’s the same team behind The Trip, but as a movie it’s not much like that. The Trip was a TV series, fictional, but made to seem like non-fiction. And then it was cut down into a movie. 24 Hour Party People is closer to another film they made, Tristram Shandy A Cock and Bull Story. Both of those are fiction films but with very meta leanings. 24 Hour Party People is almost a straight comedy, but with a lot of talking directly to the audience. And where The Trip lives or dies by its comedy (which can be an acquired taste), I think 24 Hour Party People actually feels like a more well-rounded movie, so it’s at least got that going for it. Might not be totally up your alley, but if you’re interested in Joy Division or that particular music scene in England at the time, it’s worth a look.

        Corey Atad

        May 3, 2012 at 8:13 am

        • Well… Tristam Shandy isn’t enough to sell it to me either, I’m afraid. But Joy Division is on the other hand. So maybe I’ll get to it one day.


          May 3, 2012 at 9:18 am

  2. While I too enjoy this film. I always felt it was a bit weak in comparison to 24 Hour Party People. Notably because I felt the performances in that film for the characters like Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson were much better than the ones in Control. I’m a big Joy Division fan and I thought this was well-made. It’s just that 24 Hour Party People was just more out there. I’ll try and divulge more about that film when I release my essay next week. It’s already done but it’s on hold as I’m trying to find the right videos and pictures for the essay.

    Steven Flores

    May 3, 2012 at 1:31 am

    • OK, I’ll read that and see if I can be talked into watching it. As I said earlier, I really didn’t like The Trip. But with enough recommendations I might have to give it a chance.


      May 3, 2012 at 6:59 am

  3. I too am a big Joy Division fan and loved this film. I wasn’t too impressed with Samantha Morton, but Sam Riley and the rest of the band were excellent. I also really enjoyed Anton Corbijn’s visual style. Not all past music video directors are successful in the jump to features, but he has greatly impressed me so far with Control and The American.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

    • He’s also a great photographer. That’s how I discovered him. Me and my daughter watched a photo exhibition at the museum of photography in Stockholm and fell in love with his pictures. They also showed a documentary about him and we were so intrigued that we bought Control in the museum shop. I don’t regret that. I haven’t seen The American. I’ve heard more mixed opinions about it, but I will want to check it out for myself at some point.


      May 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm

  4. Haven’t seen this, but I know Corbijn knows how to frame things. I did see The American and really loved it (ended up in my top 10 of 2010). It’s a really slowmoving movie, but it looks great and I really got caught up in the story.


    May 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Well then there’s an exchange of recommendations here! I think you should watch this one. And with your recommendation – as well as the experience from this one – I should check out The American.


      May 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm

  5. I can definately recommend 24 Hour Party People. I saw both movies just a day apart and booth give insights and perspecitve on the Manchester music scene around that time. Booth movies a great.


    May 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    • OK! I’ve heard so many recommendations by now that I figure I eventually will have to give in.


      May 3, 2012 at 7:52 pm

  6. This one took me by surprise by how dark and bleak it was but by the end of the film, I felt like I knew more about Curtis than I ever thought. Definitely the perfect choice for a black-and-white look. Nice review Jessica.


    May 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    • Thanks! Yeah, I think the mood and the black-and-white was just spot on. We did get closer, definitely, But someone like him I guess will always remain a bit of a mystery. However the mystery isn’t glorified, like some teenagers like to do about rockstars that kill themselves. And I really like the movie for that. It feels honest.


      May 3, 2012 at 7:52 pm

  7. Oh I’ve been meaning to check this one out. “Not all movies make you leave the theatre walking on air. Some movies make you grasp for air. You can still love them.” Y’know I actually like the feeling of breathlessness after seeing a film, I’m always drawn to dark, brooding characters. Sounds like this one is right my alley.

    LOVE your blog btw 🙂


    May 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    • Why, thank you! 🙂
      If you like it dark and brooding I agree completely. This should be right your alley.


      May 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm

  8. Great review! This is really exceptional film, one that I think every Joy Division fan should see. Sam Riley was really fantastic here.


    May 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    • Thank you! And yes, he was fantastic, both as an actor and as a singer. They were very lucky to find him for that role I’d say.


      May 6, 2012 at 9:03 am

  9. Lovely post, Jessica. You’re a fantastic writer. These are not merely movie reviews, they’re film-watching chronicles. Your style is very poetic.


    May 5, 2012 at 3:58 am

    • Oh, and loved the Harry Potter reference 😉


      May 5, 2012 at 3:59 am

      • Why, thank you!
        And as of Harry Potter it’s probably not the first time I tap into that world, and not the last time either. I steal images wherever I can find them.


        May 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: