Anton Corbijn is a photographer. You’re probably familiar with his work, especially that for bans like Depeche Mode or U2. He also made videos for Depeche Mode. At the time people said those videos were so visual that it wouldn’t take long before Corbijn would make an actual movie.
Not long is now.
The subject of the film is something Corbijn is familiar with: music. Not just any music, but one of the first bands he shot. Not just any band, but Joy Division.
The name of a Joy Division song: “She’s Lost Control”.
The name of Corbijn’s movie: “Control”.
In a way, that says it all.
How does one make a movie about Joy Division? The simple answer: you don’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if you know someone (especially not if you’re older than 25) who has a gigantic Joy Division poster in his or her room. “Love will tear us apart” was an anthem at parties during the 80s and 90s.
This can only mean one thing: whatever a filmmaker would do, there’d be more than one angry mob ready to scream ‘outrage!’ and ready to lynch the director.
That in this case the filmmaker wouldn’t just be a director but a photographer, weirdly enough helped Corbijn’s case. Thanks to his association with many bands and having shot one of the first pictures of Joy Division, people trusted him to make a decent movie.
Rather than making a regular biopic, Corbijn made a movie version of Deborah Curtis’s book. Deborah is Ian’s wife, someone who was close to the band, but not a band member. This gave the movie both a bit of distance and a bit of proximity.
Naysayers were available, saying that Michael Winterbottom directed a better view of the Joy Division era in 24 Hour Party People, but Winterbottom’s and Corbijn’s movies couldn’t be more different.
The vision of the band Corbijn offers is primarily a movie version of the man’s photography: shot in black and white and focusing on details that give a good sample of the entire image.
The criticism that some had (that this would reduce the movie to a picture that moves) isn’t true: sure, there are weaker scenes where Corbijn goes for a simple shot for the photobook (not unsurprising for a photographer who’s shooting his first movie), but which movie doesn’t have a weaker scene?
The strong points of Control are undoubtedly the very strong cast and Corbijn’s perseverance to show Joy Division as a live phenomenon.
As Corbijn has said before, many people never realized how much of a strong live band Joy Division were. The band was better on stage than on records and the band often disliked the sound of their albums.
This is why Corbijn opted for live songs by the cast rather than the soundtrack by the real Joy Division. Don’t worry, a couple of New Order members overlooked the process, so nothing too blasphemic happened.
Only for a handful of songs Corbijn chose the record version by the real Joy Division, one of those tracks being “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
Again, Corbijn had to swallow some criticism for playing this song during the scene where the marriage of Ian and Debbie is shaky and Ian finds himself drawn more and more to Annik. Corbijn’s defense was the only correct one: he said the song was so familiar to everyone it would’ve been awkward to use it in any scene whatsover, but leaving it out of the film would’ve been sacrilege too.
The cast’s cover versions of Joy Division had Sam Riley on vocals, the actor who looks so much like Ian Curtis it’s quite uncanny. Even the most ardent Joy Division fans have to admit that it would’ve been hard to find a better Curtis than Riley.
The rest of the main cast deserves a mention too, especially the actresses who portray the women in Ian’s life. Samantha Morton is amazing as Deborah Curtis and Alexandra Maria Lara (who was the only reason I kept watching a tacky German film with her in the lead a couple of months ago) is equally strong and gives enough dimension to Annik Honoré to make you understand why Ian Curtis was so intrigued by her.
So, all in all, is this a perfect movie? No, but I don’t think there will ever be a perfect Joy Division movie. Even in this movie some scenes probably aren’t factually true (how would anyone know what Curtis did in his last night on earth – as he was alone in the house?), but you will definitely have a hard time if you want to make a better movie on Joy Division. Maybe some scenes indeed look too much like moving photographs, but maybe that is not a bad way to describe a band.
Until proven wrong: best Joy Division movie and one of the best films of 2007.