“A very human story,” says revered rock snapper Anton Corbijn about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis during the Making Of featurette. It’s true, too, that the surprise and success of Corbijn’s duly lauded debut feature lies in its stripped-raw humanity. Sure, the photographer’s black-and-white late-’70s photos of the Joy boys clouded them in murky mystique. In Control, though, he works to demythologise the Manchester lads, bringing Curtis to life and confronting head-on the conflicts that propelled him to die at 23.
Corbijn’s Curtis is a polite civil servant with poetry in him; a man romantic enough to marry young but horrified by domesticity; a charismatic talent whose epilepsy left him too fragile to perform; and a rising star torn between a lover and family ties. On top of that pack of tensions, Corbijn further illuminates Curtis by fixing him in place and context, offsetting the gravitational pull of a grim North with all the romantic possibilities of a new Bowie album.
A committed cast serve Corbijn’s cause impeccably, from Sam Riley’s piston-dancing, man-possessed lead to Samantha Morton’s helpless Deborah Curtis. The actors playing Joy Division bond like a band, too, as the extended performances on this solid but spare solo disc prove. It’s a shame those voices aren’t heard on the commentary, too – as Corbijn chooses to yak alone and his mellow spiel could use some added sparks. Some old footage of the real-life band performing would also have helped put things in perspective. But the film still stands tall: beautiful and bleak, transcendent and tragic, it’s a formidable rock flick rooted in the poetry and pity of the real.