Control (2007)


Control looks into the life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in 1980, through the eyes of his wife Deborah who wrote a book of her experience, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division upon which the movie is based.

Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.

The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.

It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.

What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.

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20 thoughts on “Control (2007)”

  1. Abstracted Fade says:

    It’s good to read some words about Joy Division on this site, as I’ve wondered for some time what your perspective was on this band. I found the film quite stimulating and insightful in the context of its purpose. I’ve noticed a current fashion to incorporate Joy Division and other post-punk influences into metal, and while some vaguely interesting music has emerged from that inspiration, most of it is limited to an aesthetic novelty and misses the conceptual essence that distinguished the originals. Joy Division, for me, was a striking expression of modern anxiety and alienation, but also of deep yearning while in the grip of profound despair.

    Also, I want to commend the article for mentioning the too frequently dismissed notion that people (particularly the more aware and sensitive) suicide out of a real sense of, as you say, the “utter misery of life”, rather than a medical condition. As a society, we don’t like to acknowledge this, because it suggests that perhaps, after all, we have not found the right path, and in fact are breeding corrosive emptiness.

    “It was me, waiting for me
    Hoping for something more
    Me, seeing me this time
    Hoping for something else”

  2. Dualist says:

    Although Factory Records was run by that unrepentant Leftist and self-publicist Tony Wilson they did at least allow their artists to be just that.

    Poor Ian was lucky he checked out when he did. I live in the grinding industrial North not-too-far from where the band formed. The people round here, being working-class and hence less sold on the narcissism and personal drama of the modern world, were still happy to be just normal, decent and honourable back then.

    Now I have to put up with the pitiful spectacle of people who would really rather live in LA talking in decreasingly thick Northern accents. Generations of families who’ve never worked because they’ve been bribed into submission by the welfare state now compete over what designer clothes to buy for their doomed children.

    Where will it end? Where will it end?
    Where will it end? Where will it end?

    1. Richard Head says:

      Ship ’em all to LA, Escape From New York style, and let them have what they want.

  3. thisoneheredude says:

    What say you of Bauhaus?

  4. Richard Head says:

    I knew nothing of Joy Division until about 7 years back when some locals recruited me to do guitar for a JD cover act during some Halloween gig. Their music really is knuckle-dragging simple, the guitar technique is a few degrees more advanced than the Ramones’ music. Never listened to them again; too boring, too whiny. Really not much “dissymmetry” going on the music; it is standard verse-chorus pop structuring. Guy did have a solid sense of pacing and melody, but that can be said of dozens of bands who are also boring and whiny.

    Good article, though. I may check this out to see if my mind can be changed about the group, though unfortunately it looks to be focused on Curtis’ personal life more than anything. When will we get one of these about Kevin Shields? Does he have to kill himself too?

    1. Concerned Citizen says:

      What could a Kevin Shields movie be about? What did you think about their new album?

      I agree on Joy Division. I heard their song in a playlist with other goth and new wave bands and the only reason it was distinguishable from the rest was because I already heard their song.

      1. Richard Head says:

        I guess the movie would feature Shields talking too quietly, saying things that most people consider arrogant, maybe some detail on his equipment and customized gear, the music he heard that inspired him to start experimenting with acoustics and electronics, how badly the Strawberry Wine EP sucked. Either way I’d rather watch a live dude talk about what he has done and compare it to what he is currently doing, rather than watch an actor portray a dead dude who could barely even play a guitar.

  5. Ara says:

    I’m sure Kevin Shields would be shit on for somehow ruining black metal with post-infiltration of the genre. Or they would say something about how hollow the music of mbv is since sound doesn’t matter but structure does.

      1. Ara says:

        I’m impressed concidering how much of a dirty word shoegaze is.

        1. This was written before idiots decided to make shoegaze with black metal flavoring and call it black metal shoegaze. The genre by itself has no such stigma!

          1. Ara says:

            Are there current examples of cross-genre bands that are respected here? I think I remember stuff like Cro-Mags being held in high regard, but that was ages ago.

            1. Cro-Mags are still held in high regard here, but I view them as punk influenced by metal, not a crossover. I credit them with my awakening via the lyrics to “World Peace.”

              Other metal-influenced punk bands like the Misfits are also highly-regarded, but it’s important to note with some of these bands that they are metal-influenced and influenced by a lot of other things as well, including their own creativity.

              As you probably know, I started out as a thrash fan of what is now called “crossover thrash” but in the day was simply “thrash”: DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Dead Horse, etc.

              Back in the day, our endorsement of certain proggy bands in the death metal room was viewed as suspect. Pestilence came into play there, with reason: it abandoned much of the death metal riffing and weakened its third album greatly by doing so.

              Otherwise, probably not. My only criteria is that something be good. If its defense is that incoherence is its artistic goal, I’ll just throw on some K.K. Null to remind everyone of how artistry makes beauty out of chaos.

              As far as my listening goes, many readers remember that for a couple decades I listened to a lot of jazz (Coleman, Monk, Coltrane, Mingus) and some oddball rock (REM) as well as a fair amount of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. I have not much use for anything other than classical, metal and some electronic music today, excepting Mr. Marley.

              1. Ara says:

                Do you feel that it is possible to cross-genre today and have it be good, or does it always show a lack of ideas? Do you feel that the need to preserve genre boundaries prevents an objective appreciation of records that do mix genres and potentially obscures the substance they may bring to the table?

                1. Richard Head says:

                  You should interview Brett, that would make/is making a good read.

  6. Imposition says:

    Joy Division has some good moments.

    However, I don’t get the line that is being pushing here. It’s because modern life sucks that he suicided? Seems tenuous, at best. If this was the case then everyone would be suiciding.

    1. …unless they could not perceive it, or were pathological in another way, leaving only the greedy, fetishistic, perverse, addicted, traumatized, etc.

      1. Richard Head says:

        Or what about divorcing yourself from modern life and mot pursuing social or material fulfillment? Or just being a hardass and not killing yourself like an emo pussy?

        1. Or what about divorcing yourself from modern life and mot pursuing social or material fulfillment?

          Not this stupid shit again… explanations as to why this is pointless are on the old site. In a nutshell, making yourself isolated does nothing. You either stop social decline or you’re just acting for your own convenience along with the other compies, just compensating for the fact that your society is failing and you have no bigger/better ideas than to get the best of what is available in failure. 25% failure is still failure.

          1. Richard Head says:

            That’s not what I’m saying, didn’t mention isolation.

            Socialization is playing with a Skinner box. Just to recognize this is the first step. Then you decide that you want something better (whatever that means). That attitude alone relieves a person from a lot of social pressures that confine creativity and encourage herd thinking. Becoming a hobo is not required. I’m integrated into society just fine and but I’m not a consumer first and foremost; that makes me a weirdo to others but at least I’m not crushed by the ennui of modernity. Sure I like cheeseburgers and fast cars, but I would be terminally depressed if those were the most fulfilling things in my life.

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