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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock Music > Biopic > Biography > British > Punk > New Wave > Dance > Documentary > Control + Joy Division (2007/Weinstein DVD)

Control + Joy Division (2007/Weinstein DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-/C+     Extras: B-/C+     Films: B



I have been saying since the 1980s that some of the best filmmakers were working in Music Video and should any of the very best move into feature films, the results would be impressive.  The usual result with the lesser directors has amounted to some of the worst features ever made.  Russell Mulcahy is one whose work between the two mediums have had there highs and lows, with his Videos being more inarguable than his best features.


Anton Corbijn has been around as long as Mulcahy, known primarily for his stunning, memorable and highly enduring work with Depeche Mode which included long-form Music Video projects.  He has worked with other acts, but the look and feel of his work is known worldwide thanks to that great band, even if most do not know who he is.  Then there is Grant Gee, who has made memorable Videos for the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Nature Boy,) Neil Finn (Rest of The Day Off,) Gorillaz (White Light,) Coldplay (Shiver,) Blur (Tender, Version 2) and the especially brilliant No Surprises for Radiohead.  Neither has made a feature film outright, but the great band Joy Division has been too important a subject for them and the result is two distinctive debuts with excellent results.


The story of one of the greatest, yet short-lived band in British music history, Manchester-based Joy Division had a crude name in the Punk Rock tradition (named after a Nazi brothel) yet they were not totally a Punk band.  They were also the dark side of British Rock, the flip side of the New Romantics movement, an influence on New Wave and even British Dance music.  Corbijn’s Control is the dramatic film based on a book (Touching From A Distance) by the widow of the band’s lead singer, Ian Curtis.  Samantha Morton (Longford, Code 46) plays Deborah Curtis, who becomes another long-suffering Rock singer wife with child, but it is not overplayed and Morton turns in a very good performance.  Sometimes, it is very painful to watch because the situation is so ugly and since it is Curtis’ book, pulls no punches about her being an outsider or being forsaken by both the band and her husband’s mistress.


I give Corbijn and screenplay adaptor Matt Greenhalgh worked very hard to get this to be as rich, dense and authentic as possible and the hard work pays off.  Without gimmicks, lies, tricks or slick phoniness most directors would resort to now, pairing down matters to their basics and building from there, the film digs deep into the characters.  Sam Riley is stunning as Ian Curtis, bringing him to life in a performance that is easily one of the most underrated of the last few years, from his triumphs to his person pains form relationships, music, love and illness that all helped to put him over the edge.  When he has finally self-destructed, we realize the loss goes far beyond music innovation and the resulting film is a love letter to him and his home, where the people never get the credit they deserve much like himself.


But the greatness of the film does not stop there.  Though it has some overlap with past Music Biopics, Corbijn and Director of Photography Martin Rhue shot the film in 2.35 X 1 Super 35mm film and filmed the whole thing in black and white.  In some of the best monochrome shooting we have seen since Scorsese’s Raging Bull, the compositions, editing and build up just add to telling the story and best of all, they use the full width of the scope frame in ways rarely seen in filmmaking today anywhere.  This is serious, formidable, intelligent, professional filmmaking we rarely see anymore and shows that Corbijn could outdo most of his contemporaries at the helm.  If he wished, he could be one of the most important feature filmmakers of his time and generation.  We can’t wait to see a Blu-ray either. 


Corbin is one of the many interviewees on Gee’s documentary of the band, simply called Joy Division, but there is nothing simple about this smart delving and layout of the rise and peak of the band before its surviving members immediately regrouped as New Order.  There is also an abundance of stills, memorabilia and clips, including some great ones of Ian Curtis that show us just how incredible a performer he was and of course, how greater he, his reputation and his work would have become if he had not imploded.  However, this is a very impressive, thorough work and anyone seeing Control should grabs Gee’s work here and watch it after seeing Corbijn’s film.



The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Control looks good, but is a little softer than one might have liked and we suspect a combination the DVD’s picture limits and turning the color stocks shot in black and white might be a factor.  Otherwise, Rhue’s cinematography is uncompromised in an aspect ratio sense.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Division is typical of many documentaries where the diverse mix of footage has mixed quality, while the interviews have some motion blur.  Gee did his own camerawork for the new footage.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 is pretty good on Control, with a soundfield that is never overdone and does justice to the music, but I would have preferred DTS here and will hopefully get better sound on a Blu-ray version.  The Dolby 5.1 on Division is stretching the audio a bit in most cases, but does benefit the music just the same.


Extras on Control include two trailers, three Music Videos of the band & The Killers, stills, extended live performances from the film, on-camera Corbijn interview, making of featurette and terrific feature length audio commentary by Corbijn about the film and more.  Extras on Division includes 75 minutes of additional interview footage work seeing and a vintage archival clip of the band performing “Transmission” on British TV.


For more on Corbijn, there is an excellent DVD of his Music Video work, among other things called The Films Of Anton Corbijn, which you can read more about here:





We also have more on the band in a great entry from the Under Review series simply entitled Joy Division - Under Review here:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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