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Movie review by David MalschMusic is the foundation of who I am- not film. Somewhere along the way I became disillusioned with the state of music and turned my back on it. Film is a very deep spiritual thing to me but it pales in comparison to what music brings to my life. When I was a kid growing up in the 70s I wanted to be a rock star- I wanted to be a DJ. I wanted to spread the gospel of music to the masses but I wasn't a very good singer to pull it off and didn't have the discipline to play an instrument. I eventually got into radio but quickly realized that it was nothing like I expected and moved on from there.
I grew up on AM radio and mainstream pop music. I listened to anything and everything in those days until I discovered a band called The Clash and then I became someone else. I turned off my radio and never looked back and discovered a world of music I had never before knew existed. It was liberating and the defining moment of my life that I have never let go. One of the bands I discovered was Joy Division- but more importantly it's lead singer Ian Curtis. He was a mesmerizing figure who was unlike anyone else I had ever heard or seen. He may have been a combination of many other performers like David Bowie or Lou Reed but he was definitely himself- strikingly original.
Joy Division were only together as a band for three years- they released two albums and never stepped foot in America. On the verge of greatness and a U.S. Tour, Ian Curtis killed himself by hanging himself in his English flat that he shared with his estranged wife and daughter. His suicide destroyed the band but made legends of them to masses of people. Ian Curtis was a mystery and his death made him an icon.
"Control" is the story of Ian Curtis and his band Joy Division. It is a rock 'n roll biopic and dare I say one of the greatest ever made in this genre. It is an astonishing film about a man caught between a rock and a hard place and about his ultimate demise. What is terrific about this film is that you needn't be a fan of Ian and his band to fully be moved and inspired by it. True fanatics of Joy Division may resent the film for not memorializing Curtis and the life he briefly led but he is shown for the man he was from the people who knew and loved him most.
First time filmmaker Anton Corbijn has made a remarkable film in stunning black and white about a man who was anything but black and white. The film is based on the book by Curtis' widow Deborah and shows a man actually more human and alive than his music showed. When we first meet Ian (Sam Riley) in 1973 coming home from school and locking himself in his bedroom to chain smoke and listen to David Bowie albums we meet an average ordinary teenager living in a small town outside of Manchester in Northwestern England. He falls in love with his best friends girlfriend Deborah (Samantha Morton) and marries her right away out of high school. Together the see the infamous first show of the Sex Pistols in Manchester which inspires Curtis to start his own band. So begins Joy Division (which is slang for concentration camp units where female inmates are forced into prostitution for the pleasure of Nazi soldiers)- their name may be bleak but their music was much more than that. They were a post punk band who were more about mood and expression than energy and anger. They were different from the rest which set them apart.
Curtis was a tall and lanky young man who writhed around on stage and clung to the microphone as if his life depended on it. One night while on stage he has a seizure, which is diagnosed as epilepsy and his life begins to fall apart from there. Unsure of how to treat it properly- he is over drugged and misdiagnosed. The variety of medications in addition to the late nights and abuse of alcohol begin to destroy Curtis. He falls out of love with his wife and child and meets a Belgian woman named Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) and tries for a time to balance both. In addition to the band and their growing success on top of that Ian Curtis kills himself to escape it all. This isn't a classic rock 'n roll story about fame and it's excesses- it's about a man who may have suffered from being bipolar and had no one there to help him. It was through his music and his life that clung him to life but it was something much more that took the life out of him.
Corbijn has made a perfect film that never once hits a wrong note. It is a film that is full of life despite it's subject matter and stunning beautiful to look at. The performance by Sam Riley is terrific and one of the very best of the year. He not only was flawless as an actor in this film but he- along with the band in the film performed every song themselves on stage and in the studio and do it all perfectly. Another terrific performance in the film comes from Samantha Morton- she is amazing playing a woman who suffers her husbands fame nearly as much as he did. She was his anchor even long after it broke from the ship.
"Control" is one of the very best films of the year and a perfect opportunity for people to connect again to Joy Division or discover them the first time. Also coming out soon is a documentary about the band called simply, "Joy Division" that was directed by Grant Gee who made a great film about Radiohead ten years ago. Control makes for a wonderful companion piece to another terrific film called "24 Hour Party People" that tells similar stories about the Manchester music scene and also briefly touches on the death of Curtis. It is films like these that bring me back to my core foundation with music- it breathes new life into me and reminds me of who I was and who I've become.
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