I am most certainly not the target audience for CONTROL, Anton Corbijn's biopic of the late Ian Curtis, lead singer and songwriter for the Brit post-punk band Joy Division, and that shouldn't matter. If a film is good, if the filmmakers tell their story in a manner that doesn't necessitate a prior knowledge to the characters and situations at hand, all that stuff is pointless. There are certain situations where I've walked into a film based on some kind of series (like HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS) with a lot of backstory to them and I wasn't especially enamored of the cinematic results, but there are also examples where the opposite of that was also true. I can't think of any offhand, but you know what I mean. Sometimes that stuff helps, sometimes that stuff hurts, sometimes it doesn't matter at all. And in the case of CONTROL, it doesn't matter at all, because it's an excellent film.
My knowledge of Curtis and Joy Division was basically "Love Will Tear Us Apart", "Dead Souls" and that's it. I later learned that New Order came from the remains of Joy Division, but I don't really know too much New Order, either (though I guess I know more of them than I do Joy Division), but again, that's it. Though, as I'm sure many of you know, there are countless number of Joy Division fans out there and their music still sells in some capacity to this day and I'm sure many of them can't wait to see the film. I have an interest in the post-punk era of Brit rock, though Joy Division has been completely off my radar. Truth is, I've always associated them with bands like The Cure who I don't really dislike but don't really seek out. CONTROL helps to change that; I liked the music I heard (all of it performed by the actors) and was especially impressed with how it's presented in the film itself, much of it as a counterpart to what was going on in Curtis' life and mind. A lot of it is handled as matter of fact, in concert footage and recording studios, but it all helps to drive the music home and its inclusion is occasionally quite powerful, especially when "Love Will Tear Us Apart" comes on. It's a pivotal moment when it does and could have gone either way, but it hits you like a punch to the heart and kudos to Corbijn for handling it so damn well.
The same can also be said for the rest of the film, however. A longtime photographer and music video vet, Corbijn has done a very impressive job on his first feature and I suspect that this is the start of a directorial career worth watching. He really seems to understand the cinematic medium and stays away from the music video style and simply concentrates on Curtis' story. The film is quiet and intimate (especially for a rock bio) and it feels like this is exactly the right way to approach this story. It stays away from a lot of the rock movie cliches to tell the story of a man wracked with guilt over an extramarital affair and despondent over fame and illness, while also focusing on those he loved and the people in his life. As Corbijn portrays the story, it rarely leaves the quiet suburbs of Manchester for the big city and in those scenes it's shown as a peaceful (if unexciting) place to live. Corbijn has cast it all beautifully, with Sam Riley memorable as Curtis, Samantha Morton excellent as his wife and a wonderful Toby Kebbell as Joy Division's manager, Ron Gretton. But best of all is that CONTROL is also one of the most beautifully shot films in recent memory, all done in beautiful widescreen black & white that is simply stunning to look at. For all of the brouhaha about digital photography and whatnot, it's a pleasure to see that good old b&w film can still kick major ass on the movie screen.
So it turns out the Weinsteins have control of CONTROL and I pray that it doesn't get cut up to make it more accessible because it's just fine as is. If it can grab the attention of this Joy Division newbie then it probably will with others, so just let it be. Congrats, Corbijn.