Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dance like Ian Curtis

"Control" is one of my favorite films from this year. It's a film with both a terse protagonist and terse visuals; it aims to strip away any layer of legend behind Joy Division, but not really. Anton Corbijn, whom I know as a director of music videos (specifically "Heart-Shaped Box" by Nirvana), presents the events in a very flattened way. Take the scene where Ian tells his wife (played by Samantha Morton, whom I always confuse with Emily Watson) that he's been cheating on her. They shoot the scene with a telephoto lens, flattening any sense of depth -- the houses on the hill in the background are very striking, as are the cars lining the road in the foreground. In between these images are Ian and his wife, essentially walking in place as he tells her, in stark black and white. It's very beautiful.

Another aspect of the film I loved was the depiction of music. Normally, and many films are incredibly guilty of this, music is out of sync with what's on screen. Drummers hit anything but the correct drums in accordance with the music heard, guitarists feebly strum the strings for no reason. Here, the actors-as-band-members all perform the songs live, essentially, and it brings this immediacy and sense of honesty to the portrayal of the band. It doesn't feel like we're watching Joaquin Phoenix do his best Johnny Cash. We're watching Joy Division.

Sam Reilly's performance as Ian Curtis embodies what is legendary about the frontman. His energy, the feeling that he was actually giving every ounce of his life into performing. He relates in the film that people don't understand how much of himself he gives each concert. It's this that makes you understand the band's legacy, that he wasn't just some idle genius. The band's formation is, again, presented as quietly and matter-of-factly as possible. It was how bare and personal his performance was, and we see it every time the band is drenched in sweat.

To tie this film with another film based on an English band, Joe Anderson plays the bass guitarist here with his native accent. In "Across the Universe," he's Max, a fast-talking, Ivy League student turned hippie, where his acting style is somewhere between Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell. And he looks like Jared Leto (the actual guitarist of 30 Seconds to Mars [which brings up another point I think Julian and I talked about: why do all celebrity bands have space-themed names? Dog Star with Keanu Reeves, 30 Seconds to Mars, Phantom Planet with Jason Schwartzman, the Bacon Brothers...]).

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