Control (Alliance, 2007) D: Anton Corbijn, w/ Sam Riley, Samantha Morton. Rating: NN; DVD package: NNN
Joy Division (Alliance, 2007) D: Grant Gee, w/ Stephen Morris, Peter Hook. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
If compelling circumstances (alien abduction springs to mind) force you to choose between Control, Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, and Joy Division, Grant Gee’s documentary about the band and its importance, go with the latter. You’ll have more fun and learn more about Curtis, his band, the influences that moulded them and the legacy they left.
Gee, who’s made documentaries on Radiohead and musician Scott Walker, treats Joy Division as a specifically Manchester phenomenon and uses archival and contemporary visuals to explore the band and the conditions that gave rise to it and to punk in general.
Talking heads and good archival performance footage build a clear, detailed story. Gee has all the major players: surviving band members, Curtis’s widow (in voice only), his girlfriend, Annik Honore, Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson and more. They’re all forthcoming and articulate. Roadie Terry Mason is particularly affecting on Curtis’s suicide. Between the clips, long shots of the city from moving cars provide a visual correlative to the band’s music and give the film a tight, propulsive rhythm.
More than an hour’s worth of interview clips in the extras flesh out Gee’s ideas about the influence of the city on the music.
In Control, on the other hand, Anton Corbijn, who directs videos, delivers mostly static pretty pictures – every shot an album cover – at the monotonous pace of deep depression. In the making-of doc and his thoughtful commentary, he calls the images “beautiful” and justifies his use of black-and-white by claiming that it’s how people remember the band. Maybe so, but nowhere does he capture any of Joy Division’s originality or importance. Without that, we’ve no particular reason to be interested in Curtis.
Corbijn also spends a lot of time explaining Curtis’s character. That’s a good thing, because the movie itself doesn’t, ignoring even the medication-induced mood swings essential to understanding Curtis’s crash.
As Curtis, Sam Riley gives a two-note performance: depressed and more depressed. He’s good at it, but it makes for a monotonous two hours. Samantha Morton (as Curtis’s wife, Deborah) and Alexandra Maria Lara (his girlfriend, Annik), both fine actors, bring life to the proceedings, but the rest of the cast barely registers.
EXTRAS Control: director commentary, director interview, making-of doc, extended performance scenes. Widescreen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Joy Division: 25 interview clips. Widescreen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.