It’s nice when a movie lives up to its expectations and even surpasses them because it rarely seems to happen anymore. Such is the case with Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis bio-pic, Control.
I’ve been waiting to see Control for a long time. From the start, the film sounded interesting, since I am a huge fan of post-punk alternative rock music, the genre that Ian Curtis and Joy Division practically invented in the late 1970’s. But when I heard that long-time band collaborator and renowned music video director Anton Corbijn was directing the film, my anticipation rose to even higher levels.
Control was given a limited theatrical release in late 2007, so I knew early on that I’d most likely have to wait for the DVD release. It was worth the wait.
Relative unknown actor Sam Riley plays Curtis, and quite simply he should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. Riley sings all the songs himself in Curtis’ emotionless monotone so eerily well that it often feels as if we’re watching a documentary on the band’s performances. In keeping with authenticity, the other actors who round out Joy Division in the film, also learned to play their own instruments and on stage they become a parallel universe version of the band. I’d pay money to see them perform live. And for this reason alone, the musical performances are the highlights of the film.
Samantha Morton, as teenage-bride Debbie Curtis, is solid as the oft-grieving wife (is there any other kind in musical bio-pics?) and Alexandra Maria Lara’s innocent yet lustful mistress, Annik Honore, round out the stable women in Curtis’ unstable life.
What I liked about Control was that no one was painted as a villain in order to drum up conflict for plot. Everything is presented matter-of-factly, which ultimately lets the viewer make his or her own conclusions about what contributed to Curtis’ death.
Back to Corbijn. He opted to shoot the film in black and white, and it’s really the only way the film could have been shot. The gray color palate works well with the subject matter – a suicidal lead-singer from Northern England – and if that doesn’t say “gray”, then I don’t know what does.
In closing, Control is always in control. The film knows what it is, where it’s headed and what it wants to be. Most of this can be attributed to Corbijn, who after decades of directing music videos for bands like Depeche Mode and U2, knows how to connect music with images. But what makes Control work so well is Corbijn’s understanding that sometimes, the best way to see music is to just watch people perform it.
Shot in black and white, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video is excellent. The images are deep, surface lines are sharp, and there is no grain, pixilation or distortion to be found. Some less-experienced (and less-knowledgeable) moviegoers tend to avoid B&W films, but after seeing Control, they may be apt to change their minds. Control couldn’t have been filmed any other way.
Control’s Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track roars to life during the film’s many musical performances. You’ll feel like you are on stage, or in studio with the band. Lows are crisp and rich, and the highs are ear-crackling sharp. Because some of the dialogue is spoken at low volumes, thick with British accents, you might find yourself turning up the sound, only to be jarred from your seat when the musical numbers begin. So you’ve been warned. But I prefer the music in this film to be played loud.
The Director’s Commentary with Anton Corbijn is a bit slow but informative. Corbijn recalls his experiences with the band and how this knowledge helped him while making the film. He explains his decision to shoot in B&W and gives good behind-the-scenes tidbits throughout. However, a second commentary with Debbie Curtis and/or the surviving members of the band would have really made things interesting.
The Making of Control featurette includes interviews with the cast and crew. Here we learn that the actors learned to play all of their own instruments and that screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh opted not to meet the surviving members of Joy Division (now New Order) so that he would not be influenced by their real-life identities. Also of interest — Corbijn recalling the eerie similarities of meeting Ian Curtis and Sam Riley for the first time. Again, Debbie Curtis, real-life band mates and other people from Curtis’ life are sorely lacking here. Even Samantha Morton is nowhere to be found.
A Conversation with Anton Corbijn features the director discussing Joy Division, how their music influenced his decision to move from Holland to England, and his relationship with Curtis and the band. Here one really comes to understand why Corbijn was the perfect choice for director and why he should become an excellent director in the future.
Extended Musical Sequences from the Film feature the obvious, but sadly they are not in Dolby Digital 5.1 or anamorphic widescreen. The songs featured from the film include Transmission, Leaders of Men and Candidate.
There are some Music Videos included, the first of which is Joy Division performing Transmission on BBC’s Something Else show. Second is an Anton Corbijn-directed video of Atmosphere from 1988 and The Killers round out the videos with a cover of Shadowplay.
A Still Gallery includes shots from the film, some of which Corbijn recreated from his original photographs of the band.
Finally, there are some Promotional Materials which include theatrical trailers for Control, the soundtrack, Anton Corbijn’s Video Diary, Debbie Curtis’ memior, Touching from a Distance, the remastered Joy Division albums, and the Epilepsy Foundation.
Control is a must-see for Joy Division fans or fans of musical-oriented films. Sam Riley and Samantha Morton turn in excellent performances that ground the film in reality, and the musical sequences are authentic, all being performed live by the actors. Corbijn shoots the film perfectly in black and white, capturing the essence of the era and the band. The A/V specs are very well done, and the Special Features, while lacking in real people associated with Curtis outside of Corbijn, are all informative and entertaining. Let me put it this way. I rented Control from Blockbuster, the only place you can rent it by the way, and I am kicking myself for not buying it. Simply put, Control is one of 2007’s best films, if not the best film of the year.