Posted by: Jeff | November 26, 2009

Control

I finally got around to watching Control (2007), the Anton Corbijn-helmed docu-drama about the sudden rise and tragic fall of Joy Division and lead singer Ian Curtis.  Joy Division continues to be a remarkably important influence on modern rock, with bands ranging from Oasis, Interpol, The Killers and U2, to Moby, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Cure all claiming a heavy influence.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I have to admit that my familiarity with Joy Division as anything other than an influence is somewhat new.  I never owned a Joy Division record until this past summer, though I’ve counted New Order, the band that emerged from the shadow of Ian Curtis’ death, as among my very favorite bands for some years now.   New Order evolved stylistically, but many of the elements they incorporate were born in Joy Division – the muddy guitar, the bassline melodies, the sweeping synths, and even the dance-heavy syncopation of the drums.  Though rough around the edges, Joy Division marked the beginning of a brand new sound, and they were a very good band to boot.

Today the allegation is often lobbed by music critics that up-and-coming bands are merely replicating a style perfected by Joy Division in the late 1970’s.  The band infused emotion and poetry into guitar-heavy instrumentation, ushering in a post-punk rock revival that laid a foundation for New Wave, Britpop, Grunge, and modern alternative music.  It’s not unrealistic to say that perhaps no band since The Velvet Underground has had such a broad and lasting impact on the past 30 years of rock and roll.

Corbijn’s film, shot in black and white, is a dreary look into Curtis’ struggle with depression, epilepsy, and a failing marriage.  Just as Joy Division’s career seemed to take off, Curtis’ life unraveled.  His violent fits of epileptic seizure sometimes struck mid-set during live shows – the band didn’t use strobe lights for fear of his safety, but later some speculated that the music itself may have sparked his epilepsy.  Corbijn depicts Curtis giving an impassioned vocal performance punctuated by halting, fitful dance moves that quickly slip into seizure.  The band plays on as Curtis is dragged offstage to recover, emotionally drained.

Though Joy Division’s star rose quickly, it was not all glamour and fun.  Curtis’ crippling depression and personal life problems superseded his ability to perform.  This emotional flailing is captured in songs such as the signature Love Will Tear Us Apart, where Curtis drones, “Do you cry out in your sleep?/All my feelings exposed/Get a taste in my mouth/As desperation takes hold/Is it something so good/Just can’t function no more?” Clearly, Curtis dealt with emotions beyond his years.

This is a film filled with cold moments, but you can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.  In the end, the 23-year-old Curtis kills himself, to the devastation of his wife, child, band, and lover.  Though his life ended ignominously, his legacy is anything but.  His wife would go on to pen the biography upon which Control is adapted, and his bandmates would eventually regroup as New Order and go on to be international best-sellers.  However, their finest moment, in my opinion, came from the pen of Ian Curtis himself:

Even in death, his music lives on.
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Responses

  1. […] debut – Turn on the Bright Lights – after hearing a number of favorable comparisons to Joy Division.  Having listened to both bands obsessively at times, I do have to say that Interpol is a lot more […]


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