Control (2007) Dir: Anton Corbijn
Something bothered me about Anton Corbijn’s acclaimed 2007 biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. The film based on Deborah Curtis‘ book Touching from a Distance and it certainly doesn’t paint Curtis in too sympathetic a light showing a troubled, confused young men much like other troubled, confused young men in early adulthood. Albeit one diagnosed with epilepsy couple, blessed with a unique, spectral stage presence and voice that helped the band became of the most influential of the crop of post punk bands to rise out of the ashes of punk in the late 70’s.
Corbijn’s film is beautifully shot in black and white which neatly referenced both his own iconic photographic work with the band and the feel of the grey skies and dank streets of life in a northern town during that period. Sam Riley as Curtis does an uncanny impersonation of the singer and is suitably soulful, troubled withdrawn as the legend dictates.
But the portrayal and tone of the film seemed quite humorless and in awe of its subject as if made by one of the intense,earnest Camus reading young men that seem to make up much of the bands cult following.
As I sat there watching the film, I kep on thinking ‘Where was the spark of humour so apparent in Michael Winterbottom’s irreverent take on the Factory Records story?’ In 24 Hour Party People, talented character actor Sean Harris plays Curtis with a similar, wired intensity but comes across as a fairly affable, witty, occasionally volatile character.
Cinema is not about presenting an absolute truth and certainly, a more light-hearted side of Curtis personality might have jarred with Corbijn’s overall vision but for me, the solemnity of Control saps something of the energy and excitement out of Curtis’ musical legacy and paints him as a monochrome martyr.
24 Hour Party People is also guilty of its own myth making but is up front about it from the get go with it’s use of the late Factory impressario Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) as an unreliable narrator but the impish, reckless life force of that film and its brief focus on one of the key English rock bands of the last thirty years feels more authentic in spirit than the entirety of Corbijn’s well-intentioned feature-length memorial.