Control: The Tragedy of Ian Curtis, His Family and Joy Division.
Above Photo: Ian Curtis with his wife Deborah and baby.
I recently re-watched Control, a 2007 film about Joy Division and the death of the band’s singer Ian Curtis, who killed himself aged 23.
Based on a book by his widow, Deborah Curtis, I first watched the film when it came out and thought it was a cinematic, screenwriting and acting masterpiece.
Ian Curtis’s real-life daughter, Natalie, also had a cameo in the film, appearing in a crowd scene at a Joy Division gig which ended in riot in real life, as Curtis was unable to continue the performance.
Control was released to critical acclaim and received numerous awards in 2007, and it’s one of those films which, from the very start, grabs your attention and keeps it until the end.
It opens in Macclesfield in 1973, and is shot in black and white (well, it was actually shot in colour, then rendered into black and white). This convincingly ‘aged’ the film and also helped convey the monochrome nature of the bleak, going-nowhere times many in bands and in British cities faced back then, which is something that also chimed with events detailed in my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!
The moment Drive In Saturday by David Bowie cranks up, you know the soundtrack is also going to be fantastic (which it was, using Joy Division tracks and other iconic music including songs by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop).
There were some great screenwriting moments. After a schoolboy Ian Curtis and a mate steal prescription schizophrenia medication from an old woman, they read up on it:
“Side effects include: drowsiness, apathy, agitation and blurred vison….I’m taking two!”
Later in the film, this previously amusing scene grimly contrasts with a shot of Curtis’s own medical cabinet, now full of prescription drugs for his epilepsy. When he asks the doctor about the side effects of his medication, the list is no longer exciting or amusing, but disturbing.
There was another somber moment when Curtis walks into his kitchen and sees his baby’s clothes hanging from a pulley to dry them. Knowing that he hung himself in the same kitchen made this image pretty grim for me, and foretold the end of the film.
The film band bore an incredible likeness to the real band, down to the mannerisms of Curtis’s singing and strange dancing – even the way he held his microphone.
You couldn’t help but feel sympathy for everyone involved in Curtis’s personal tragedy, especially his wife. They just married too young. Curtis, torn between two women, suffering from epilepsy and the side effects of his meds, found it all too much to bear and took his life, days before Joy Division were to embark on an American tour.
It was utterly tragic that someone felt his life was so out of control that he had to end it so young, depriving the world of a powerful musical force over the coming decades.
On a personal note, and bearing in mind the events described in Bombed Out!, one thing that did please me in the film was seeing this fake Eric’s “Nightclub” Liverpool poster behind Curtis in one of the scenes (also showing the Control album cover artwork).
It shows a Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire gig on the 16th of February 1979 at Eric’s.
Not only was that a gig I had gone to, but it was also the day after my own first gig as a musician, with Liverpool band Pink Military, which happened to be in Manchester at Tony Wilson’s Factory Club, a day earlier, on 15 February 1979.
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