I don’t know much about Joy Division. I was too young to have known about them when they existed, and the place I grew up wasn’t exactly a thriving centre of post-punk, so I wasn’t exposed to them after the fact either. I didn’t know much of their history either, but after watching 24 Hour Party People I knew a little. What I did know was that they were — and continue to be — very influential, and that their singer Ian Curtis died very young.
Watching Control (imdb | rotten tomatoes) gave me a better lens on the man, as seen through the eyes of his wife Deborah and director Anton Corbijn, who before he premiered this film at TIFF two years ago had only done music videos and rock photography, some of which had featured Curtis and Joy Division years before. It was shot in a black and white that was achingly beautiful, as you’d expect from someone with Corbijn’s eye. I’d also heard that relative newcomer Sam Riley did a bang-on impression of Curtis, not that I’d know. I don’t think I’d ever seen footage of Joy Division before, or couldn’t remember if I did, but watching a few YouTube clips later proved that Riley nailed it.
Biopics are tricky things, especially about someone who’s become posthumously idolized like Curtis, but I thought this one worked well. It skipped the usual formula of tortured childhood + addiction/hardship = triumph over adversity, and it showed the weakness of Curtis’ character while never quite making him seem pathetic. I had no particular emotional interest in Ian Curtis or Joy Division, but I still found the story interesting and the method skillful. If you haven’t seen it it’s worth a look.