Ian Curtisʼ life will probably always be seen through enigmatic components of despondency and confusion, creativity and tragedy. Holland born director Anton Corbijn, whose knowledge of the band dates back several decades, shot the Curtis biopic in black and white, hoping to bring out the pastel grays and chalk tones of a bleak time in which the Joy Division front man lived.

Curtis, as Corbijn displays so succinctly in his movie Control, lived his life with such a brevity that itʼs almost unthinkable to imagine how much sheer emotional instability he encountered in between his self-made sound proof walls of incapacitation, and his stressful soliloquies of almost infantile emotion. All of these, Corbijn illustrates, were polar opposites too jagged, too intangible for Curtis to harness within his short 23 years on the planet.

The movie covers the bandʼs rise to the proverbial top, while we witness Curtisʼ slow, irreconcilable detachment from reality, all in a kind of unsettling dichotomy that detains more than entertains us.

What works so greatly in this movie, aside from the inspired performances, is that of the cinematically mood. If this film had been shot in, say, color, the entire exercise of authenticity and atmosphere wouldʼve been completely shattered. Corbijn, in choosing to shoot in black and white, creates these scenes out of running ink and blotches of oil, spattering them together as if they were worn, scribbled out notebooks of a past life. When I watched this movie, I saw flipping pages, not a flipping reels of film. I felt satisfied in its factual scope, its sincerity, its warmth.

Though the movie is clearly content on bringing the frayed, damaged images of Curtisʼ life together, we are also exposed to Joy Divisionʼs wonderful catalog of music. There are some funny moments here, too, including a rather humorous aggression toward fellow English band The Buzzcocks that reminded me a bit of the Boris Karloff jest in Tim Burtonʼs Ed Wood. The biggest scene stealer, however, is Sam Riley. With all of his passion behind the project, Riley fully captured Curtisʼ darting eyes, the band leaderʼs vehement pension for staggering haphazardly around the stage with clumsy, often sudden jolts of energy, and, of course, Curtisʼ trademark voice..

Time to listen to my Substance CD again.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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