The Movie & The Myth
Control was a biopic about the lead singer of the band Joy Division, Ian Curtis, that came out back in 2007. Anton Corbijn directed it, who was a good choice because he had been a photographer for the actual band.
Matt Greenhalgh wrote the screenplay based “Touching from a Distance”, a biography about Curtis that had been written by his widow, Deborah. She also served as co-producer on the movie along with Tony Wilson, who owned Factory Records label, the company that released Joy Division’s music. The soundtrack was supported by the remaining members of Joy Division, Peter Hook, Bernard Summer and Stephen Morris (who had by then formed New Order).
The movie was partially shot on location around Nottingham, Macclesfield and Manchester. This included areas where Ian Curtis had actually lived. Although it was shot in color, the film was printed out in black and white.
“Control” was taken from the Joy Division Song entitled, “She’s Lost Control.”
The movie starts with Curtis marrying his wife in 1975 when they are both just 19 and 18, respectively, in their hometown of Macclesfield. Shortly after their marriage, however, Curtis begins retreating into a life spent writing poetry. After attending a Sex Pistols concert with his future band mates, Curtis becomes enthralled with the idea of starting a band of his own.
They form Joy Division in 1977, however Ian Curtis has to keep his job as an employment agent. It’s there he witnesses a man suffer a seizure, which kicks his ambition into overdrive. A year later, he’d suffer one of his own.
As the band begins to enjoy success, Curtis begins withdrawing from marriage further, which leads him to an affair with the Belgian journalist. The same journalist will come to his aid during another seizure he will suffer before trying to kill himself.
His next attempt will be successful when Curtis hangs himself after a fight with his wife and a night of drinking.
The film was a passion project for director Anton Corbijn who had been a devout fan of Joy Division in real life, going back to their early days. In real life, he had met the band after moving to England in the late 1970s. There, he shot a number of pictures for a magazine called NME. As a result, his career as a photographer received a noticeable boost. During the film, some of the actual pictures he took are featured. Corbijn also directed the music video for the band’s single, “Atmosphere” which was released in 1988.
In interviews, Corbijn mentioned that he felt as though the film overlapped with his actual life in a number of ways. He had moved to London specifically to be close to the music scene and Joy Division was a big part of it. The music video for “Atmosphere” was shot not long after Curtis died.
Despite his success in other pursuits as an artist, the movie Control is Corbijn’s debut as a director. He paid half of his own salary himself.
The choice to produce the film in black and white was done, Corbijn said, to reflect both the mood of the era and the general tone of the band itself.
Filming only last seven weeks and had begun about a year after the script itself was finished in 2005. As mentioned earlier, many of Ian Curtis’ real, live haunts were featured. Even Ian Curtis’ actual daughter had a role as an extra, appearing in a scene that takes place in Derby Hall.
Release and Reception
Control was produced by the Weinstein Company who secured the rights after it was a critical success at Cannes. The DVD was released in America, the UK and Australia during 2008.
At the box office, Control made $8,159,508. Just over 70% of that came from countries outside the UK. Amongst music biopics, the movie is the 32nd most successful, judging by box office.
For the most part, Control received amazing reviews from Cannes and elsewhere. Critics and general audiences alike loved it. In terms of the script, having the subject matter’s widow as the writer certainly went a long way in winning over fans. Riley’s performance as Curtis also did a lot for the movie’s acceptance too.
Although Peter Hook had mentioned in an interview that it was more-or-less a piece of art more than fact, both he and Stephen Morris praised the film as well. Hook was very complimentary of the director, however, even going so far as to say his knowledge of the band shone through.