By: Sarah L. Myers

I wish I were a Warhol silk screen
Hanging on the wall
Or little Joe or maybe Lou
I’d love to be them all
All New York City’s broken hearts
And secrets would be mine
I’d put you on a movie reel
And that would be just fine.

-Ian Curtis, 1973

This is a second attempt at a review of the film, “Control” - Anton Corbijn’s magnificent portrait of Joy Division’s lead singer, Ian Curtis. There’s a repulsion that comes along with the idea of an audience applauding someone’s tragedy. Not Ian’s tragedy - but his wife’s, his daughter’s, his mistress’s, his band mate’s, the guy in the theater with ‘HATE’ scrawled on his Army jacket, and the young man who looks at Ian as some far away soul mate. But to applaud it is also the appropriate response. After 27 years, Ian is getting the respect he deserves, on a much wider scale. Those who didn’t know him before will discover the music that helped change rock n’ roll. Those that have always loved him will be thankful for such an elegant tribute.

Walking into a steely shot of Sam Riley walking down the street, the camera so close on his face you can see flecks of light in his eyes, I understood why one reviewer said “Control” isn’t a movie you watch, but one that you live. I was tempted to applaud after every spot-on performance in the film. Riley is nothing short of phenomenal and mimics Ian’s demeanor and onstage moves with eerie precision. The first powerful scene with Riley onstage as Ian, movie awkwardly to “Transmission” on Granada TV, brings him to life with aching detail. Riley’s arms fail aimlessly, and at the moment his eyes go glassy and vacant you feel like you’re watching a ghost. Ian’s widow, Deborah (played brilliantly by Samantha Morton), watches on with concern - there’s a shift taking place in her husband, imperceptible to anyone but her.

The relationship between Ian and Deborah is thoroughly explored, beginning with a sweet courtship in their teens. As Ian recites poetry while looking out the window, Deborah fixes her eyes on him and takes his hand from behind her friend’s back. It’s one of the most beautiful shots in the entire movie. Their love was pure and simple, mirroring the life they had as a married couple in working-class Macclesfield. There’s a childlike excitement to Ian as he kisses his new wife and says, “let’s have a baby.” The division is already starting to take place: the working young man eager to support a family, and the amateur rock star onstage in front of the crowd. His meeting of Annik Honore (actress Alexandra Maria Lara), a Belgian embassy worker, and their extra-marital affair, only compound these pressures.

One of the most significant scenes in the film shows Ian witnessing an epileptic seizure. His illness is hinted at early in the film, as his vision blurs and his hearing muffles while in school as a teenager. This witnessed episode had a profound impact on Ian, even more so when the young woman dies. After hearing the news, he sits with a blank sheet of paper, penning the words “she lost control” in his looped, all-capital scrawl. Peter Hook’s bass line slowly becomes audible as he re-writes “she’s,” and the shot switches to Joy Division recording of one of their most famous songs.

Devastating is the only word to describe the effects of Ian’s epilepsy. Coming back from Joy Divison’s first show in London, cramped into a tiny car without heat, Ian suffers his first attack in front of his band mates. Confused, scared, and unprepared to handle something so serious, they comfort their friend with humor and trips to the pub. After being given scant medical advice and a prescription of anti-psychotics, Ian begins to feel like a prisoner in his own body, often mimicking his attacks with a frantic stage presence. Riley’s portrayal is exceptional here. Ian felt extremely shameful of his illness. With each worsening attack, he retreats further into his lyrics and away from his friends and his wife. Staring into a stacked medicine cabinet, he closes its door and closes his eyes. When he hears the cry of his newborn daughter, he opens it again and shakes a few pills out onto his palm.

Corbijn’s photography perfectly compliments Joy Division’s music. Originally filmed in color, then adjusted to black and white in post-production, the film has a lush but sterile appearance. Corbijn’s admiration of Joy Division brought him to England when he was still a young photographer. He worked with the band many times. His portrait of them in a subway tunnel is one of his most well known. Ian looks back while the other guys look forward. Many see this as Ian’s premonition of his own death. This theory is also examined in the film. Romanced by the thought of an early death, Ian was obsessed with beautiful tragedy. In a scene showing Ian under hypnosis, he sees his future. While under hypnosis in real life, he spoke in the first person, alluding to his already being dead. “Control” producer Todd Eckert heard a cassette recording of the session, calling it “the single most scary thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The film successfully humanizes Ian’s legend. As proven by Deborah’s memoir, “Touching From a Distance,” on which this film is based, Ian Curtis was often an unlikable, selfish husband. As his notoriety ascends, he recedes farther and farther from his wife and the life they built together in Macclesfield. His relationship with Annik, which had been dealt with more quietly to this point (she had never even given her version of events until the film was written) is blown wide open in the film. Not just the other woman, Annik held strong influence over Ian and was a great love in his life. He was impressed by her independence and found her exotic and glamorous. “My marriage is a mistake,” he tells her. So strong is Riley and Lara’s chemistry onscreen that it resulted in a real-life romance between the two.

Riley’s display of emotions throughout the film capture Ian’s mounting resentment toward his wife and responsibilities. His heavy expressions and collapsed character show a young man weighed down by a lifestyle he was incapable of living at 22. With those around him too young to help, the only person he opens up to is Factory Records founder Tony Wilson. “Even the people who love me hate me,” he cries. It’s truly heartbreaking to watch.

With Joy Division’s first tour of the United States looming, Ian begins living out his last days in complete despair. While everyone else celebrates the occasion, Ian looks on, distraught. He tries to commit suicide once. The note to Deborah reads, “No reason to fight now. Give my love to Annik.” Back on the road directly after his release, he suffers a debilitating seizure while performing “Dead Souls”. (“They keep calling me.”) His vocals for “Isolation” are ignored as cries for help: “Mother I tried please believe me, I’m doing the best that I can.” Only Annik knew these were Ian’s words of desperation. While the guys party in the studio, Ian stands alone in the vocal booth with his eyes closed.

“Control” is a film that refuses to take sides. Deborah’s frustrations with her husband are shown alongside her love for him and devotion to their marriage. Annik feels guilty for falling in love with Ian, yet they continue their relationship and their lying to Deborah. It’s this type of balance that gives the film real authenticity. Deborah wrote the screenplay and Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook have both commended her for the accuracy in the film. We feel the strain of these people’s lives, and we feel the effects of Ian’s illness. His untimely death is more distressing than before when faced with the performances in this movie. It’s this realness that makes it so difficult to watch. I left the first time. To quote Tony Wilson, “If it is a choice between the truth and the legend, take the legend every time.”





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