As promised way back in June (!)--I finally saw Anton Corbijn's film CONTROL.
For those who do not already know about the life of Ian Curtis: SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie was simply beautiful to watch, in stark, British working-class black and white. There is a great segue early in the film, as we see Ian laying on a bed, smoking cigarettes and listening to one of my all-time favorite songs of the era: Drive-In Saturday, which was thrilling to hear in historic context, as well as an omen for Ian:
She's uncertain if she likes him
But she knows she really loves him
It's a crash-course for the ravers
It's a Drive-In Saturday.
(I listened to it as many times as Ian did, which gave me an immediate emotional connection to the movie.)
After this, you hear more Bowie, Roxy Music and Sex Pistols on the soundtrack, like a progression... then, suddenly, it is Joy Division. It is Ian. They have taken their place in the pantheon. We realize: this is a movie about how that occurred.
Mr Daisy didn't think the inner-life of Ian, the person obsessed with suffering, the Third Reich and Rudolf Hess, was completely shown to us, but I'm not so sure. The fact of Ian's epilepsy is introduced early, as he zones out while looking at an equation on the blackboard in school. The motif of something "closing in" is one of his repeated themes, and he undoubtedly had an instinctive "darkness" and introspection (nowadays they'd call him a goth) that made him perfect for punk.
Sam Riley portrays Ian wonderfully and captures his erratic dancing perfectly. The famous incident in which he writhes at the microphone, finally collapsing into an actual seizure (in the film, during the song DEAD SOULS, see below) is turned into an amazing scene, finally made realistic and understandable. (The audience thought it was part of the show.) The way Ian felt soul-numbingly sick and drained, heavily-drugged to prevent seizures, is made apparent throughout the last half of the movie. Samantha Morton is great as Deborah Curtis, who also wrote the book titled Touching from a Distance, on which this account is based. She also co-produced the movie.
Transmission - Joy Division
It's also understood that the song "She's Lost Control" is describing a woman having a seizure at his workplace, which Ian watches, frightened, later learning that the woman has died. This song reflected Ian's fears around the fact he could no longer manage his epilepsy. The issue I have with the portrayal of epilepsy-as-evil-interloper is the way his disability is seen as the major negative in his life, while issues of class and heterosexual marriage/reproduction are presented as a given.*
On the World Socialist Web Site (wsws.org), Kevin Martinez reviews CONTROL:
The name of the band was taken from the brothels operated by the Nazis in various concentration camps. While Curtis was not flirting with neo-Nazism, some of his bandmates indicate that they had a fascination with fascism at the time, and the whole thing suggests unseriousness and irresponsibility, as well as a growing social nihilism.**At one point, Ian is heavily drugged with anti-convulsants and unable to continue; the audience riots, and Ian feels responsible.
The band’s demo EP, “An Ideal For Living,” featured a Hitler Youth member pounding a drum on the cover. The inside artwork is the infamous picture of Jews with their hands up in surrender during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
“I like it,” Ian explains “It’s thought-provoking.” This critical stance, however, does not prevent their shows from being overrun by skinheads and accusations of the band supporting fascism.
Much has been said of the atmospheric and sad sound of Joy Division’s music. It is usually described as depressing; others like to think of it as cathartic. Like the elephant in the room, the knowledge of Curtis’s eventual suicide hangs over the band’s music, and the film, like a long shadow. The story is not unlike that of Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana, who underwent a similar process of achieving fame and ultimate disillusionment.
Below--the DEAD SOULS sequence from the movie:
Someone take these dreams away
That point me to another day
A duel of personalities
That stretch all true realities
That keep calling me
They keep calling me
Keep on calling me
They keep calling me
Ian Curtis committed suicide at the age of 23. I don't know how historically-accurate these last scenes were, but it certainly didn't look pleasant. The screaming of Deborah after entering the house to find Ian, just cut me right to the quick.
Rest in peace, Dead Soul. We love you and yes, pray for your soul.
*Annik, the beautiful Belgian rock reporter whom Ian falls in love with, remarks on Ian and Deborah's marriage: "I've never heard of anyone married so young!" At the time of their wedding, Ian was 19, Deborah was 18. (I was startled by that, since my first marriage, around the same time, was when I was 19, on his 19th birthday. These things sound shocking when you hear them out of the mouth of someone else!)
**Wikipedia informs us: Curtis's memorial stone, which is inscribed with "Ian Curtis 18-5-80" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart", was stolen in July 2008 from the Cheshire cemetery where he is buried.