Anton Corbijn’s biopic about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis was filmed mostly in Nottingham because my city is grim and looks like the seventies.
The Guardian review calls Control the best film of the year. The footage of newcomer Sam Riley losing himself as Curtis on stage is mesmerising and frighteningly accurate. It is shot in the crispest, most vivid monochrome, and for all its grime and desperation it looks like one of those films that remind any of us brought up in scrappy Northern/Midland English towns that we can be heroes. I love this film, and I haven’t even seen it yet.
Update: I have been to see the film this afternoon. Here’s a quick review, of sorts…
Loved it! The music is the catalyst (much of it played by the actors, and sounding incredible through cinema speakers), but at the forefront are Ian and Debbie, their spiralling fears, Ian’s condition, and his lack of, well, control.
Manchester, it’s music, it’s impresario (Wilson) and other key players (Hannett, Gretton) are omnipresent but very much in the background. In Control, Ian Curtis happens to be a writer, poet and singer, but he could just as well have been a factory worker. This is a film about existence, about learning to accept our limits, and about how glimpses of something better can be destructive.
Yet throughout all this anguish, the humour and thrill of simple pleasures (the joy of a good cup of tea) remind us that our lot in life often isn’t so bad. It's just that the most ambitious, creative and/or delicate souls amongst us can find it all so overwhelming. I kept thinking about the unexplained disappearance of Richey Edwards in the 90s, another successful writer, poet, and musician who by all accounts couldn’t bear the weight of the world, even though it wasn’t his weight to carry.
Oscar nominations should not be ruled out, especially if you compare the faultless performances in Control with the inferior Oscar-winning acting in Walk The Line (sorry for the lazy biopic comparison there). I wouldn’t rate the casting as a complete success, but then I’m comparing actors with the people they are playing, so I guess it is a tough thing to nail. The most important thing is that Sam Riley and Samantha Morton excel, and Riley, in particular, is wholly believable.
Today’s Guardian Guide addresses something else that has occurred to me. Ian’s wife laid his life bare in her book. From that book, Corbijn has animated that life on film. I can’t help thinking that this would be the last thing Curtis would want, and in death, he has indeed lost control. Of his own story, at least.
As for my grimy old city, it certainly does impress on celluloid: the opening scenes at the flats in Lenton; some Lace Market action where Stoney Street meets Hollowstone; a scene near the end at the railway station’s side exit. This all makes me quite proud, though not as proud as I would be if I actually came from Manchester, looking back across one of the most inspirational and compelling music histories of any British city (or anywhere in the world for that matter).