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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Control': The Enthralling and Somber Dramatization of the Life of Joy Division's Ian Curtis

Movie poster for the film Control starring Sam Riley and Samantha Morton

“Control” (2007) is a biographical depiction of the life and times of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer of the seminal post-punk band “Joy Division” in the 1970’s. The storyline begins with the wedding of Curtis and Debbie Woodruff (Samantha Morton) at just 19 and 18 years of age, respectively, and follows young Curtis’s early aspirations toward poetry, before a landmark concert experience changes his life forever.

In June of 1976 Curtis and three friends attend a Sex Pistols concert at Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester—an event that would come to be known as “The Gig That Changed the World”. In attendance that evening were various members of many notable acts of the near future (including The Smiths, The Buzzcocks and The Fall), and for Curtis it was immediate inspiration to form a group as part of the burgeoning new wave of punk music invading the UK.

Soon thereafter teaming up with legendary promoter and manager Tony Curtis of Factory Records, Joy Division enjoys growing success on the regional circuit, yet Curtis is bedeviled by his ongoing struggles with Epilepsy—and the drugs he is prescribed make him increasingly moody and drowsy. Success distracts him from the birth of his daughter Natalie, and an impassioned affair with Dutch journalist Annik Honoré further exacerbates his anxieties and frustrations, adding to the emotional strain his newfound success is already weighing upon him.

Curtis’ story ends tragically and with great sorrow, yet his story (told by his wife in the book “Touching from a Distance” and adapted to the screen by Matt Greenhalgh) is an absorbing recreation of historical success, alienation and severe emotional tumult—given dynamic perspective by photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn. With the aid of cinematographer Martin Ruhe, whose black and white photography is absolutely mesmerizing, Corbijn lifts “Control” above standard biopic territory and elevates it to the level of near-transcendent artistry. It's beautiful, heartrending work—a deeply emotional and viscerally galvanizing cinematic experience.


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