Bleak Moments

Sam Riley as Pete Docherty – sorry, Ian Curtis, in Control.

 

Having a bit of a film-watching phase at the moment.  Got Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic Control out.  Wished I hadn’t.  Seems that this film has a lot of supporters, with a few disparagers making up a tiny minority.  I was very surprised to find myself in the latter category.

Great art is never depressing.  Sombre, yes.  Depressing, no, because its very merit as art uplifts even if its message is grim.  Control is depressing.

There’s an inherent difficulty with a Curtis biopic in that on paper, his life does not make a good story.  Young moody man makes music, finds life a bit of a struggle, kills himself. As fiction, it’s the sort of thing you’d come up with when fifteen years old whilst listening to Joy Division.  Or even worse, the sort of thing you’d come up with when fourteen years old whilst listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  To make this material work, you need an imaginative approach.  We don’t get one here.  Instead we’re lumbered with a very conventional chronological narrative, with key events in Curtis’ life sign-posted (sometimes by actual signs reading things like ‘David Bowie Live’ and the like).  Curtis was a radical artist.  Employing such a boring style is practically guaranteed to communicate nothing about why we’re watching a film about him in the first place, and not the lead singer of Crispy Ambulance (whose bit-part appearance is one of the few good bits in the thing).  It’s only bettered in the timidity stakes by Ed Harris’ Pollock, with its hilarious ‘Jackson learns to drip’ scene.

Black and white is employed so that the film looks like Joy Division’s press coverage.  But Curtis’ life had very little to do with the press.  For the most part, it was lived in private, which was of course in colour, no doubt sometimes involving lurid seventies wallpaper.  Check out Fassbinder’s Fear Eats The Soul for the true Seventies technicolour version of grimness.

The film portrays Curtis almost as a normal bloke, who just happened to be in a band and had a bit of domestic hassle at home.  All the evidence points to Curtis being the opposite of this.  He was an odd young man who simultaneously treasured the idea of dying young and also that of getting married and raising a family.  He was fascinated by transgressive performance, whilst nevertheless still voting Conservative and making racist jokes with the boys in the band. That all these things rather cancelled each other out didn’t seem to occur to him.  In fact, from the way he became obsessed with ideas without considering their implications, I’d go as far to say that I suspect some sort of autistic spectrum disorder was at work (as a near-possessor of a doctorate in Art History, I am fully qualified to make posthumous medical diagnoses, as is ‘Doctor’ Neil Fox).  

It would have been a strange thing to be Ian Curtis, and the film doesn’t manage to convey this at all.  We get a sense of what it would be like to see him at a gig, but not what it would be to actually give that performance.  Curtis undoubtedly experienced life at a heightened intensity (otherwise the chances of him coming up with the lyrics to something like ‘Shadowplay’ are pretty slim), but this didn’t come across either.  Meanwhile Sam Riley is too much of a pretty boy, and far too cool to convey anything about someone as uncomfortable in their own skin as Curtis.  Look at him in photos, and except when he’s playing the role of tortured artist, he has something of the Gordon Brown about him, as if he’s been clumsily cut and pasted into his environment from somewhere else entirely.

In short, I hated this film.  There probably is a good movie about Curtis to be made but this isn’t it.  In my view there’s only one man for the job – and that’s Ken Russell.  Hey, he did a good job with that one about Tchaikovsky  and Lisztomania was worth it for the title alone.  Roger Daltrey as Ian Curtis.  You know you want it.

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2 Responses to “Bleak Moments”

  1. tremours ‘v’ control … you decide …

    lovinit Richy B

    you’ve probably seen this http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1097239/ but i’d say it is the best Joy Division film, if you can be assed watching anything else about the moany bunch of moles…

  2. Thanks Phil. I’ll probably watch it when it’s on telly…

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