Update on Joy Division biopic Control and Ian Curtis' music

Just a little update on a post from last week: The Joy Division biopic Control will be opening at the Tivoli for one week only, starting October 26. Shot by noted photographer Anton Corbijn, and based on the book by Ian Curtis' widow (Touching from a Distance), the black-and-white film has been getting huge buzz all around.

I haven't seen the movie yet, just the trailer, so I'm not going to comment on the quality of the film. Music blogger Matthew Perpetua saw the movie and wasn't keen on it, based on this post's observations. He says, among other things:

Despite co-writing exactly one great song ("Love Will Tear Us Apart"), being an epileptic, getting married at a very young age, and committing suicide at 23, Ian Curtis was a dreadfully dull human being. Maybe that's an overstatement, but there's certainly not enough in his brief life to support the plot of a feature-length film.

We would have rather seen a movie about Bernard Sumner, who is at least twice as fascinating and about twenty times more talented than Curtis. Seriously, why do we need another iteration of the TRAGIC YOUNG ROCK STAR story when we could instead explore the inner workings of a dorky weirdo like Sumner? Or hell, what about Peter Hook? That guy is more interesting too. Even another movie about Tony Wilson would've been better.

For starters, it's ludicrous to say that Curtis co-wrote exactly one good song. Joy Division's canon is small but powerful. There's "Atmosphere" and "Disorder" and their spacey, daybreak synth beauty; the harrowing, hollow "Dead Souls"; the jittery, desperate dance-punk of "Transmission" and "She's Lost Control." Even the early New Order single "Ceremony" -- which has rich, mournful basslines -- dates from Joy Division's days.

Joy Division's influence as well reached far beyond its catalog. Early U2 (Boy and October especially) took quite a bit from the yawning expanses of JD's use of space and its sharp, barbed guitar riffs. This list on Wikipedia also sums up the influence quite well; any sense of skin-crawling isolation and alienation found in the music of many bands likely stems from JD.

Sure, few 23-year-olds are interesting enough to have movies made about them. And Curtis had his shortcomings; he had a mistress, which perhaps contributed to the disintegration of his marriage.

But he was also dealing with epilepsy -- a disease whose seizures troubled him on and off stage. Being that young and having such a tempestuous, hard-to-control disease likely had a profound, deep effect on him. Chronic illnesses aren't exactly easy to deal with -- I should know; I have one -- and the physical and psychological impact they have on people is hard to estimate and measure. Who is to say what Curtis was feeling, with what he was going through and dealing with? To dismiss his life as simply that of a "TRAGIC YOUNG ROCK STAR" is in poor taste and rather flippant; Curtis' frustration, confusion and sense of loss must have been great.

Curtis' myth overshadows his life at this point, sure. But above all, he was human, someone suffering. I'm curious to see what my take on the biopic will be.

-- Annie Zaleski

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