Another article on the films. unrelated to the following article, I am nauseated with disappointment and frustration at the moment.
The Cult of the Lads From Manchester
By DENNIS LIM
Published: October 7, 2007
IAN CURTIS, the frontman of the beloved post-punk British band Joy Division, has been dead 27 years, longer than he was alive, but his moment in the film spotlight has only now arrived. Mr. Curtis hanged himself on May 18, 1980, two months shy of his 24th birthday and on the eve of what would have been his band’s first American tour. The Joy Division story, a sacred narrative to legions of cultish fans (and a natural for the movies, complete with doomed, charismatic hero), is now the subject of two new films, the biopic “Control” and the documentary “Joy Division.”
Both were made with the cooperation of those who best knew Mr. Curtis. “Control,” the feature directing debut of the portrait photographer Anton Corbijn, is loosely based on “Touching From a Distance,” a 1995 memoir by Mr. Curtis’s widow, Deborah, of their life together. “Joy Division,” directed by the music-video veteran Grant Gee and written by the author and critic Jon Savage, takes a panoramic approach, combining archival footage with revealing interviews of firsthand observers and Mr. Curtis’s surviving bandmates, who went on to form New Order.
In Mr. Corbijn’s film, as in Ms. Curtis’s book, the other members of Joy Division, which formed in Manchester in 1976, recede into a blur. The story homes in on Mr. Curtis’s personal pain: his struggles with epilepsy, overmedication and a guilt-inducing love triangle. By contrast, what emerges in “Joy Division” is a picture not just of Mr. Curtis and his band, but also of the social and existential conditions that produced them. The music’s coiled, haunted sound and nihilist lyrics, the documentary argues, are inseparable from the decaying postindustrial dystopia that was Manchester at the time.
The two projects, which evolved separately, are complementary but also work in similar ways. Intentionally or not, both return a mythic figure to life-size proportions.
The Weinstein Company is releasing the two films, having acquired “Control” at the Cannes Film Festival in May and “Joy Division” at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. (“Control” opens Wednesday at Film Forum in Manhattan. No release date has been set for the documentary.)
Mr. Corbijn’s hefty résumé includes four coffee-table volumes (mostly of celebrities and rock stars) and dozens of music videos for the likes of Depeche Mode and U2. But before “Control” he had no feature film experience. Speaking at the festival in Toronto, he said he had initially turned the project down but changed his mind, figuring that an “emotional connection to the material” would serve him well on his first feature. Born in the Netherlands, Mr. Corbijn, 52, was drawn to London in his early 20s by the flourishing music scene and, in particular, Joy Division.
Within two weeks of relocating there, he had tracked the band down for a shoot and taken what is perhaps the most defining photograph of Joy Division: the members walking into a tube station’s neon-lighted tunnel, Mr. Curtis looking back at the camera.
Like that image — and many others of Joy Division — “Control” is in black and white. “That felt like the proper approach,” Mr. Corbijn said. The covers for “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer,” the group’s two studio albums, use black and white imagery. And an inky, gloomy palette, Mr. Corbijn added, corresponds with his memories of ’70s England.
Ms. Curtis’s book was the primary basis for the screenplay, but Mr. Corbijn and the screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh also wove in details of Mr. Curtis’s affair with Annik Honoré, a Belgian journalist. It took some persuasion before Ms. Honoré would talk to the filmmakers, but she eventually assented and even shared letters that Mr. Curtis wrote to her, heard in voice-over in the film.
Samantha Morton signed on to play Deborah. For Ian, Mr. Corbijn chose Sam Riley, 27, who had previously appeared in a few bit parts but was folding shirts in a warehouse when he landed the role. For Mr. Riley, whose magnetic performance is the film’s scarred heart, playing Ian Curtis was a draining feat of psychological immersion and physical mimicry. He had to enact the grand mal seizures that plagued him as well as the manic, uncoordinated flailings that were his signature dance moves. (Filming the scenes between Ian and Annik were easier because “I was falling in love in real life,” he said. He and Alexandra Maria Lara, who plays Annik, are now a couple.)
To populate the concert scenes in “Control,” the filmmakers rounded up Joy Division fans, which did not exactly calm Mr. Riley’s nerves. “It was big pressure going out there and having 150 extras discussing my merits and my failures,” he said. To make things trickier, the actors in the band were also performing — not simply miming — Joy Division originals.
Mr. Riley, who had briefly been the singer in a band called 10000 Things, could manage a credible copy of Mr. Curtis’s hectoring baritone, but the other actors were essentially learning to play their instruments (not unlike Joy Division in the early days). “We practiced for hours, between rehearsals and late into the night,” Mr. Riley said.
“Control” and “Joy Division” are both necessarily elegies, not merely to Mr. Curtis but also to a host of people and places that are no longer around. “To be brutal about it, the equity of Factory is death,” Mr. Savage said, referring to Factory Records, the now-defunct label that made its name with Joy Division. In addition to Mr. Curtis, Rob Gretton, who managed Joy Division and New Order, and Martin Hannett, the producer responsible for the band’s crystalline studio sound, are also dead. Tony Wilson, the mythomaniacal founder of Factory, a producer of “Control” and the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People” (which touches on the Joy Division story), died in August.
As with other rock star suicides, Mr. Curtis’s final hours have been sifted for clues, retraced in near fetishistic detail. He was found dead by Deborah in their kitchen on a Sunday morning. The night before, he had gotten drunk, argued with her (she left), watched Werner Herzog’s “Stroszek” on television and played the Iggy Pop album “The Idiot.” As depicted in “Control,” which largely resists the temptation to assign blame or explanations, his suicide seems an impulsive act. “I think it was a moment,” Mr. Corbijn said. “I don’t think it was planned.”
The documentary, even less willing to indulge in the romance of suicide, doesn’t get into Mr. Curtis’s death until late in the film. “The ultimate romantic application of the myth is that Ian validated his art when he died,” Mr. Savage said, adding in no uncertain terms that he thought it was nonsense.
In a sense, the process of stripping the myth away from Ian Curtis began with his widow and her plaintive, clear-eyed book. Ms. Curtis has stayed out of the publicity glare surrounding “Control.” Despite being credited as co-producer, she has not attended premieres or spoken publicly about the film until now. She recently consented to an e-mail interview.
Ms. Curtis said she spent a few days on the set and observed most of the scenes that were filmed on location, often right outside the house where she and Mr. Curtis had lived in Macclesfield, a town near Manchester. She was rendered “pretty much speechless,” she said, meeting Ms. Morton. “I think she plays Debbie in a forceful way. Samantha became the strong, determined woman I always wanted to be.” Meeting Mr. Riley, especially in character as Ian, was harder. “I didn’t know where to begin to talk to him really,” she said. “I think the difference is that Samantha could empathize with me and Sam’s role required him not to.”
Watching the shoot naturally stirred up mixed emotions. “Part of me didn’t want to see the wedding scene,” she said, “especially as it was filmed outside the very same church” in which she and Mr. Curtis were married in 1975. She was present for the filming of one of the most painful scenes: as Ian and Debbie walk home from a party, he matter-of-factly tells her he no longer loves her.
“I felt emotional, not for me, but for the characters in the movie,” Ms. Curtis said. “It really was like watching someone else. And in that way I suppose it was a kind of release.”