Tuesday, January 15, 2008

He's lost control

Having (quite bizarrely) not been to the cinema in over a year, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to see a matinee screening of 'Control' in the splendid surroundings of Birmingham's Electric Cinema, was I? OK, so you saw Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic shortly after its release in the autumn, but indulge me...

There can't have been many people in the audience expecting the film to be a barrel of laughs, and - aside from the colourful language of Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton, Peter Hook's interjections about The Buzzcocks calling themselves "cocks" and the scene in which Tony Wilson passes out from signing the Factory contract with his own blood - it's certainly not.

The appalling and devastating conclusion haunts even the early scenes of a teenage Curtis gobbling down prescription medicine stolen from a pensioner with a friend, but the interest lies not in how it all comes to an end but in how Curtis changes and is ultimately driven to take his own life, traumatised by his epilepsy, crippled by indecision in his private life and no longer able to cope with his public persona.

Samantha Morton is outstanding as the woman Curtis loves but marries too young, but it's not hard to see why critical praise was heaped on Sam Riley, whose recreation of Curtis's mannerisms (particularly the peculiar convulsive dancing style) and acting out of the violent fit which pushes him to his final desperate act is remarkable. (And I'm not the only person to think there's a definite job for Riley should Pete Doherty's life take a similar course - assuming ol' Pete's not been completely eclipsed by Amy Winehouse and there's still public interest in him being the subject of a biopic...)

It's hard to think of a more harrowing sequence in any film, but of course, its impact is helped by the quality of the cinematography, which showcases Corbijn's ability to frame a scene and give it room to breathe, and to get real texture from his black and white medium.

If Michael Winterbottom's '24 Hour Party People' is, at root, a celebration of Manchester and Factory Records, 'Control' is no uncritical hagiography. Unlike partisan music biopics like 'Ray', 'Control' does not flinch in its warts-and-all portrait of a man who - partly due to his youth (Curtis was only 23 when he died, as the closing credits remind us) - selfishly damaged those closest to him. No doubt this is primarily by virtue of its being based on the testimony of the one person who suffered the most from his transformation, actions and suicide, Deborah Curtis's 'Touching From A Distance'.

So, in summary, a truly brilliant film. But if you haven't seen it yet, don't do so if you're suffering from a demonic hangover...


Ian said...

Let's just say I liked it less than you did.

Ben said...

How so?