The facts: Joy Division was perhaps the most essential band to emerge from the crazily fecund Manchester scene of the late Seventies. During their truncated lifespan they birthed a pummeling music that was something like the noise from a particularly hideous new building’s construction site, augmented by lyrics that spoke of emotional glaciation and a Ballardian sense of breakdown, intoned in a beyond-the-grave timbre by frontman Ian Curtis, a baby-faced Macclesfield pill-popper with a Vulcan haircut. Wracked by depression and intensifying epilepsy, Curtis committed suicide in 1980 at age 23, on the eve of his increasingly successful group’s first American tour, leaving a wife, a mistress, a baby, and two albums behind.
Photographer, designer, and music video director Anton Corbijn, whose relationship with Joy Division goes back as far as a ’79 photo shoot, makes his feature filmmaking debut with Control, the story of Curtis’s life. It’s no slapdash fatuity on the order of 24 Hour Party People, which exploited Curtis’s suicide in passing as another tour stop through Mancunian mythology, nor quite the film to convince me of the necessity for an Ian Curtis biopic. A somber work, it’s made with respect that brakes shy of reverence, lensed in that most striking of formats, widescreen black-and-white, in coarse-grained compositions that mostly stand stock-still, making much of the effect of milky Northern light filtering through the curtains of austere council flats.
Click here to read Nick Pinkerton’s review of Control.