Review by © Jane Freebury
There’s nothing quite like an image in black and white, particularly a portrait, and the actors of Hollywood’s golden years have never looked better colourised than they did in B&W.
Filming on monochrome can still produce great results today, and it brings a verisimilitude of its own to Control, an evocation of a rock music era now past. Control is the story of Ian Curtis, front man to Joy Division, one of the Manchester bands of the late 1970s that made the region a music hub and inspired the recent film 24 Hour Party People.
The director of this brilliant new film is Anton Corbijn, who made his mark in the popular music scene after he relocated to England from the Netherlands in 1979. He established a career as a photographer and music video director and over the decades since has been responsible for some of the definitive images of the music scene – moving and still, colour and B&W – with people like Johnny Cash, U2, Depeche Mode, and Nirvana, and many others.
This is Corbijn’s debut as feature film director. It has been a very personal project, self-financed, and is a tribute to the band that lured him as a curious young fan to England in the first place.
Filmed on location in Macclesfield and the Manchester region where Ian Curtis grew up, it is a movie we could expect would look grungy. However, instead of grainy footage of dingy council flats and the civil service offices where Curtis worked by day, Corbijn and his cinematographer Martin Ruhe have shot these daggy spaces in glorious high-contrast black and white. It is striking and instantly iconic, not just the story of one, but legions of boys who dreamt of escape through the music of David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
Curtis was bright and talented, though this was hardly reflected in his job at an Employment Exchange. Perhaps the experience spurred on his indignation during those times of social and industrial decline. Something prompted him to write ‘hate’ with Tippex in big bold letters on the back of the jacket he wore to work.
Aged 19, he tried for something more meaningful – marriage to Debbie (the wonderful Samantha Morton), and then fatherhood. But he thereby set himself a trap from which he could not escape when the chance arrived and he took his life when he was just 23.
Unknown actor Sam Riley is really splendid as the troubled and intense young Curtis, and a natural at bringing Curtis back to life on stage too. Such a good-looking film with such terrific performances is hard to beat, even if you never were a Joy Division fan.