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Joy Division: In Control

September 22, 2010

I have a difficult time with movies that I know will feature suicide, so I’ve resisted my interest in Control, Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Last night, I finally gave in, largely because I got the movie from the library, and I’ll watch anything that’s free, which is how I ended up seeing Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

The movie is quite good. It’s shot in Corbijn’s perfect grey, a very British black-and-white that captures the dreary ’70s and early ’80s in all its unwashed, woolen damp. The music, performed by the actors, is spot-on, and the story, while called “largely made up” by Joy Division guitarist Bernard Sumner, is quick and interesting, and paints the gritty counterpoint to 24 Hour Party People, a less serious look at the same era.

I wasn’t crazy about the leads. Young actor Sam Reilly plays Curtis, and does fairly well, but he plays Curtis as very clear-eyed and dominant, failing to capture the trembly, watery-eyed look the singer made his own. And Samantha Morton, a fine actress, looks just a touch too old for the part. I can forgive that, though, as she’s a tremendous talent, even when she’s a bald naked telepath soaking in Tom Cruise’s moon pool.

What this movie drove home for me, or reminded me, rather, is the pivotal role Curtis and his band played in the growth of modern music. Joy Division was the critical link between punk, post-punk and what would come to be called alternative rock, and there are few bands who don’t owe a credit of some sort to the band. This means you, emo kids.

A fine film, and an interesting walk through the music of a band I need to listen to again. Love Will Tear Us Apart: one of the best songs ever sung.

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