Control is a 2007 film by Anton Corbijn. The film is a biopic on Ian Curtis’s life, the lead singer of the late 70s, early 80s post-punk band, Joy Division. The film’s profile on Ian Curtis is guided by Deborah Curtis’s (Ian’s widow) biographic book on him. Featured stars in the film are Sam Riley (Ian Curtis), Samantha Morton (Debbie Curtis), Alexandra Maria Lara (Annik Honore). The film premiere was at Cannes Film Festival in France, on May 17th of 2007. The film budget was €4,500,000 approximately, and it made $8,159,508 at the box office. The filming locations were in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, UK and Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, UK.
A Young Ian and Debbie get married at the alarming 19 and 18 years of age, respectively.
The film starts with Ian’s fascination of the music scene during the 70s. An eager young adult, Ian disregards the social stigma and status quo and decides to marry in 1975 to Debbie Woodruff. Ian prefers to be in solitude and has a keenness for writing poetry on his own. Enthusiastic about the booming Sex Pistols playing in Manchester, he goes to their show where he meets his future band mates. Inspired by how tangible the Sex Pistols seemed to them they decided to start a band.
They form a band named Warsaw, and after a debut they rename themselves into Joy Division, based on a risqué play on words about a Nazi Germany brothel’s name.
Ian watches the Sex Pistols in the fateful Manchester show.
Ian working at an employment agency witnesses a seizure suffered by one of the patrons, which makes an impact on him and later comes to be the origin of one of Joy Division’s biggest songs.
After being mentioned in a television program by a celebrated host Tony Wilson, Ian demands that the band is featured in their program. After impressing the host, they’re signed alongside acquiring a new manager.
When Joy Division finally makes it to London, Ian suffers a seizure after their first gig in the city. He is then diagnosed with epilepsy. The medication that he was provided made him feel moody and drowsy. At this point he learns about the patron that he witnessed having a seizure died, and that brings up “She Lost Control”, where the title of the film originates. Soon after he started taking medication he becomes distant and starts to neglect Debbie. She later gives birth to their daughter Natalie in April of 1979.
Joy Division playing Love Will Tear Us Apart
Ian starts touring and leaves Debbie at home, taking care of the baby. After a few shows, during an interviewed, Ian talks to a Belgian journalist named Annik Honoré. He tells her that he is miserable and questions whether he made the wrong decision having gotten married. They start having an affair while Joy Division toured Europe during January of 1980. Upon returning home he is confronted by Debbie, and he tells her the affair is over, despite he continues to see Annik during recordings of their next album.
During a show Ian has a seizure half-way through a performance. With the stress of his feelings for Annik and Debbie, and the despair caused by the Epilepsy and its medication, he attempts suicide by taking an overdose of his medication. His state worsens as he becomes unable to go onstage, which makes the audience of a show riot. At this point Debbie demands a divorce from Ian as she learns he’s still seeing Annik. Despite his band members’ attempt to help, he leaves them to stay with his parents. He writes a letter to Annik confessing that he thinks his condition will ultimately kill him, and that he loved her.
Annik and Ian’s relationship had elements that his relationship with Debbie didn’t develop.
The film jumps then to the day of May 17 of 1980. Joy Division will begin a tour in America and the expectations are immense. Ian in an attempt to feel some security begs his wife to not get a divorce, but it her disagreement he orders her to leave. He spends the night drinking and writing a letter to Debbie, and later passes out after yet another seizure. Having woken up the next day he hangs himself from the clothes line in the kitchen. Later Debbie finds Ian’s body when she returns home, and she runs to the streets crying for help. The band is stunned and devastated and Tony attempts to console Annik. The lyrics to their song “24 hours” is read in Sam Riley’s voice and the film ends.
Interestingly enough the director, Corbijn was fan of the band from its early days. Having also directed a music video for Joy Division’s song “Atmosphere” 8 years after Curtis’s death, his decision to pursue making the biographic film is fascinating.
When a film is based on events as narrated by a person close to the individual biographic profile, personal interpretation of their actions is only to be expected. However, whilst watching the film one has to wonder how Corbijn used Deborah Curtis’s book and commentary.
One of the boldest decisions in the film was that despite the film was captured in color; it was printed in black and white. As the production commented they intended to “reflect the atmosphere of Joy Division, and the mood of the era”. Which to the viewer simply initially only seems like a visual stylistic choice, as the film develops the decision becomes ever more valuable as the lack of color transmits the unearthliness that surrounded the grief of Ian Curtis.
The Cast fooling around on set. Seemingly anachronistic camera is the only hint it’s not an actual discarded shot.
The soundtrack provided by New Order, a band that formed from the remaining members of Joy Division, and Sam Riley singing in imitation of Ian Curtis’s voice, which in turn creates a very natural and impactful sound that helps to carry the intensity of certain scenes and provides more depth to their narrative.
The film brings a small reflector on the complexity of the psychological and physical health issues that Ian struggled with, which can be damaging to the ethical appeal of the film, but it becomes obvious that the primary approach the director took was focused on appealing to the emotions of the audience.
I find worth mentioning that the interpretation this film might receive from its viewers is highly affected by their preconceived notions on the topics addressed in the film. That’d been said, it’s one of the films where what you bring with you affects what you take with you as well.
Curtis strolls down the streets of Macclesfield with a lit cigarette in his mouth.
Although the film can be lacking in establishing credibility for the struggle that Curtis went through, it should be said that the seemingly flawless camera work makes up for it. Amongst some of the most valuable memories of the film there is a scene where there’s no dialogue and we follow Curtis walking down the road and realize he has the word “Hate” painted on his jacket. This actually happened, yet there is something ravishing about the way the scene is captured. It provides a small but wondrous snippet of who this complex character Ian Curtis was.