Control (15)

5.00

A rock'n'roll suicide

The date was 11 April 1980, the location the unabashedly scuzzy venue of the Russell Club in Manchester. Taking the stage without a word, the band kicked off with an instrumental, the drummer pounding out an ominous tattoo, the other three rapt and hunched over their guitars, backs to the audience. The sound just kept coming in great waves, metallic, melodic, oddly possessed. I was 15, and I'd never seen anything quite like Joy Division. I still haven't.

Just over a month later the lead singer, Ian Curtis, hanged himself, aged 23, on the eve of the band's first tour of the US. The story of his troubled life is now the subject of a movie, Control, and it would have been very easy for its director, Anton Corbijn, to romanticise it as one of rock's poetic, whom-the-gods-love, tragedies.

That he hasn't speaks well of his restraint. Corbijn, a Dutch photographer who took iconic pictures of Joy Division for the NME, hasn't even made a music movie, though music is an essential part of it.

Shot in dreamily evocative black and white, Control looks like a throwback to the kitchen-sink school of British movie-making. In the early scenes, the newcomer Sam Riley plays Curtis as the Northern working-class hero, smoking on his narrow bed, listening to David Bowie and shyly romancing the girl, Debbie (Samantha Morton), whom he will soon marry.

Low-key normality predominates: he trudges towards the labour exchange where he has a desk job, he sets up home in Macclesfield with Debbie, he loiters palely in front of cobbled streets and high-rise flats. Yet, even as Joy Division come together and his life becomes more crowded, Curtis always carries the air of a loner, a man set apart by his peculiar vulnerability. There's something plaintively funny in the sight of him clinging to his wife in the midst of her birth-throes; once she delivers their child, he slumps into a chair, exhausted, as if he's the one who has just been through the wringer.

The other band members hardly seem to notice how tormented he is. When he suffers his first epileptic fit, as they drive back to Manchester from London, they are panicked and confused. Later, however, when he collapses on stage mid-song and has to be carried off, the others are so used to his illness that they joke about it. One can't blame them for not understanding: the NHS doctor who prescribes Curtis pills for his condition barely seems to know what to do either.

Life very quickly gets too much for him. His affair with a Belgian girl, Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), derails his marriage and guilt exacerbates his depression. Corbijn doesn't make a big deal about the way this came out in his lyrics, but it's there for all to hear in the elegy of "Atmosphere", the breakdown of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", or the threnody of "Dead Souls". When he sings, "They keep calling me/ Keep on calling me", I had my single genuine moment of hair-raising dread in the cinema this year.

What's mysterious is how the band found a match for his words in their music. Early on we see Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway) and Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) decide to form a band after watching the Sex Pistols in Manchester, but once their brief tuneless phase as Warsaw is over, the magnificently strange Gothic of Joy Division seems to derive not from punk – or even from Iggy Pop, David Bowie or Lou Reed – but from the very clangour of the post-industrial North itself. It was surely destiny that the Mancunian impresario Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) should have signed them to a label called Factory.

Corbijn honours this creative otherness without feeling compelled to explain it, and, considering the laconic, introverted nature of Morris and Sumner, and the Salford surliness of Hooky, you sense it's an explanation worth leaving alone.

On the strength of the music and the photography this would already be a fascinating film. What raises it to an unmissable one is Sam Riley's eerie impersonation of Curtis, not just in his opaque, wanly innocent face and the defeated hang of his shoulders, but in those moments on stage when the singer pushed himself frighteningly to the brink, clutching the mike in both hands or breaking into the famous trapped-butterfly dance that seemed imitative of his own epilepsy.

But Riley's performance reaches to something universal, too, the yearning quality of a young man unable to cope with the internal rebellions of his own mind and body. The fit that he suffers alone in his house, towards the end, is dreadfully upsetting and sad. Samantha Morton as Debbie hints at the task of trying to sustain a relationship with Curtis; she too has that wronged, pleading look of the kitchen-sink spouse, left holding a year-old baby and an inadequate idea of the man she loved. She wasn't alone in the latter. Morris admitted in a recent interview that the band were too young to understand Curtis's cries for help; and as for his doom-haunted lyrics, "we never really listened to them, to be honest".

But while his self-destruction was a tragedy, the film refuses to turn Curtis into someone more profound than he really was. Weakness in dealing with the consequences of infidelity and an inefficient healthcare system were the main factors in his undoing, as they have been for countless others. It's just that he also happened to be the heart and soul of an amazing rock band. Control is a tremendous memorial.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it