Long live rock, I need it every night

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Child Is the Father of the Man

Dir. by Anton Corbijn

In the first scene of Anton Corbijn's Control, a young Ian Curtis comes home to his family's council flat, bearing in hand David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album. Curtis, played by Sam Riley, lays back on his bed and listens to "Drive In Saturday," and within the hour he's ditched his schoolboy uniform in favor of eyeliner and a furry jacket. Perhaps a heavy handed stab at characterization but Riley plays it well. Curtis the schoolboy lives within the spacious confines of his mind, and his music--Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music--transports him from the black and white boundaries of his hometown of Macclesfield.

Black and white, literally--Corbijn shot the film entirely in b&w, which adds an arty touch to the movie. But the plot of Control is surprisingly straightforward and avoids avant-garde gimmickry, to its credit. Control is two stories, really--Curtis as an artist and a poet, and Curtis as a married man and father. This ground was covered to some extent in 2002's 24 Hour Party People--boy grows up listening to glam, boy goes to see the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1977, boy forms Joy Division with his mates. After the Sex Pistols show the camera follows Curtis as he walks to his job, and only after he passes the camera do we see he's scrawled the word "HATE" on the back of his pea coat. Four years may have passed since he brought home Aladdin Sane, but, as on that day in 1973 when he put on the eyeliner and donned the fur jacket, young Ian is still easily moved.

Control excels in its look at Curtis's home life. The movie was based on the book Touching From a Distance, by Curtis's wife Deborah, so much of the focus of the plot is on the domestic impact of living with a rock star. Matters are further complicated when Curtis develops (catches? inherits? someone help me out here) epilepsy. Doctor's prescription? A cocktail of giant pills, and early nights, and alcohol in moderation. Needless to say, the counsel, with the exception of the pills, is ignored, at the cost of Deborah and Ian's sanity and stability.

"Transmission," Joy Division (1979)

This is a very depressing movie, don't get me wrong (SPOILER ALERT: Curtis hangs himself at the end. But I'm sure you knew that already, because if you've made it this far you know a little about Joy Division). Early on, Curtis recites Wordsworth's "My Heart Leaps Up", which contains the eternal truth that "the child is the father of the man," and indeed, in Curtis's case, it seems like he began writing his suicide note many years before he killed himself. But Control isn't a two hour mopefest. On the contrary, it's full of engaging characters, not least Curtis himself, but also Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson, band manager Rob Gretton, and not least young Bernard Sumner, who later picked up the broken pieces of the band and formed New Order, who found fame of their own accord. Sam Riley's performance as Curtis is Oscar-worthy, and I mean that sincerely--he looks like Curtis, he dances like Curtis, he sings like Curtis, and he has epileptic fits like Curtis.

"Isolation," Joy Division (1980)

Control is surely one of the finest rock and roll movies that I've seen in my short life. It avoids hagiography, while simultaneously steering clear of the faux fly-on-the-wall/you-are-there-now treatment that turns so many music biopics into jokes (Oliver Stone's The Doors, for starters). You'll want to purchase the entire Joy Division discography after seeing this one, believe me.


Jon said...

Saw this one last weekend myself... Jimbromski's 100% correct in my opinion...

Jimbromski said...

Yeah, I liked this one a lot, I'd put it up there with Gimme Shelter and Dig. I like Joy Division but wouldn't classify myself as a superfan or anything. But I think this movie would appeal to anyone, even if they weren't familiar with the band.

Jumbo Slice said...

Never listened to Joy Division growing up. I only started after getting their stuff off Sacklunch's PC. I don't normally get into a band so long after their prime but I did w/ Joy Division. Look forward to renting this movie.

Child Is the Father of the Man is also a great Blood, Sweat, and Tears album. Very freaky album cover.