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Murder Slim Review: CONTROL

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In the 70s and 1980, there was a band called "Joy Division". In 1980 its lead singer - Ian Curtis - committed suicide. Particularly in Britain, this is known by a lot of people. Even more people know the song "Love Will Tear Us Apart", which became Joy Division's best known hit. CONTROL tries to break into the back story of the guys in the band. I checked it out on this basis, and went into this movie with no axe to grind against Joy Division. I actually enjoy much of their stuff.

The movie certainly knows its focus: Curtis. The only other half-realised character is the band's manager, but he slips into stereotypical "money orientated geezer" mode all too often. The other band members - while name checked - have almost no characterisation. Hooky - the bass player later famous for marrying the big-titted Ms. Merton (Caroline Aherne from THE ROYLE FAMILY in real life) - is portrayed in the lightest strokes. Hooky likes to fuck groupies and he's baffled by the artiness of the band. The other band members pout a lot and seem generally confused by everything.

Therefore the movie lives and dies with Ian Curtis, and has an unnecessary fascination with his life. I have no idea whether the guy's life and attitude was as dreary as it's portrayed in the film. Curtis works for the local Job Centre and marries a local gal when they're both young. She falls in love with him on the basis of him using a couple of big words such as "unremittingly", which seems to illustrate to her that he's a genius. His later French girlfriend seems to dig him purely on the basis he plays in a band. In one scene they actually discuss how they know nothing about each other, yet their love remains.

And this is the problem with the film. It's actually about nothing, empty headed people... ciphers. The actors - who seem to be trying like crazy - get very little to do. In between the pointless recreations of Joy Division's performances - always terrifying in a musical biopic as they consist of a glorified karaoke show - there seems very little to mine in Curtis's character. His epilepsy is clumsily introduced first when a helmeted girl has a fit in the job centre. The condition is then bashed over the head of the viewer when the epilectic girl dies. And the problem is these narrative hints stand out so much because they don't flow into interesting characters and situations. Aside from gawking at Sam Riley recreating Ian Curtis's wacky arm-dancing stage performances, there's nothing engaging to maintain interest.

If CONTROL is purely a work of realism, it doesn't need to be made. If Curtis's life was so basic, it's not the stuff of movies. Listen to the records... they're reasonably thought provoking on their own. And maybe the liner notes will have a summary of Curtis's life on it. Hell, imagine what he did around that. You can figure it out yourself.

If CONTROL fictionalises Curtis's life - if it exaggerates the real story - it's baffling why they would end up with something so turgid. It's presumably out of the desire to be "real", the perceived "social realism" that is the death knell of so many British movies. Once again we have slightly shaky cameras, a desire to avoid close-ups and a baffling fixation with black and white. Anton Corbijn's previous work largely consists of Depeche Mode music videos, which perhaps explains his obsession with empty-headed artistry.

To those of you in the outside world, life in the North of England (hell even Scotland and the Shetlands)... it IS in colour. Trust me. For all the fetishised shots in CONTROL of coal smoke pumping out into the sky, there is colour up there. Fuck, isn't colour instantly more "realistic"... if that's what you're striving for? And why lock out close-ups? Does emphasising emotion make something less real? Isn't a movie - like a book - about picking the most interesting parts and people within life? To keep the ol' viewer watching? And if you're so in love with your "realism", why cut away when Curtis hangs himself... the whole reason behind your movie? Now you get arty... now you avoid the real event? The whole exercise made me angry, particularly when stacked up against how well-regarded the movie is.

You may well sit waiting by the door after watching the movie, waiting for your "I stuck CONTROL through to the end, ma!" t-shirt to come through your letterbox. Trust me, it isn't coming... and I waited. Don't watch this movie... fan of Joy Division or not. Get that ol' imagination going and pop on those records... "Love, love will tear us apart..."

Review by Steve Hussy