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The best rock’n’roll film ever?

John Robb loves the new Ian Curtis biopic <i>Control</i> very very much indeed

Published on October 3rd 2007.

The best rock’n’roll film ever?

The myth of Joy Division is so powerful that it has become one of the great untouchables.

After-all few bands have a story as bleak and sad and few bands made such powerful music that changed so much and on their own terms. Somehow, against all the odds, Control, directed by Anton Corbijn, perfectly captures the brief and tragic story of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.

It’s that backdrop of kitchen sink banality and rainy day humdrum that makes Curtis’s muse seem even more powerful.

This is one of the first rock films to actually do the job. Let's face it most rock films are shite: a sorry canyon of messy disasters. For every bright and breezy Hard Days Night there is pretentious mess like the Sex Pistols Rock’ n’ Roll Swindle, for every gritty Slade In Flame there is the Spice Girls’ embarrassment. Pop stars can’t act, the film industry has no understanding of rock’n’roll and most of the stories are so banal who cares anyway?

It’s even worse for biopics. People in the movies have a hopelessly romantic view of the grubby world of rock and can’t get to grips with the sort of insane genius required to make magic in damp rehearsal rooms and shitty towns.

Control could have gone badly wrong: Oliver Stone's, the Doors, for instance was more of a flabby mess than big Jim himself when he clambered into his final bath.

When the word went out that some one was going to film the Joy Division film there was a panic around town, it’s the closest that Manchester comes to a holy story, no-one fucks with the Curtis myth.

24 Hour Party People was fun but it was more like Carry On Madchester. and no-one wanted a re-run of that film.

Anton Corbijn’s better than that. Corbijn himself was already a part of the story - he photographed Joy Division in black and white, and along with top Manc lensman Kevin Cummings, helped set the band's image in stone.

On Control he’s maintained that imagery with the whole filmed in crisp black and white and caught not only the band but the Manchester post punk scene superbly.

Control is a masterpiece, the acting is stunning - not only did Corbijnmanage to get actors who looked the people they were meant to be but he also captured their gritty personalities.

Joy Division manager the late Rob Gretton is brilliantly remembered as the Wythenshawe motormouth with a gob full of hilarious lines, Ian Curtis is caught spot on by Sam Riley - initially as the youthful Bowie freak in the bleak mid- seventies of Macclesfield when Ziggy Stardust was the only dream available for artistic young men in the pre-punk era and then as the haunted post-punk icon.

The rest of the band are spot on. That balance between the dark serious nature of their music and their clowning around is caught in one hilarious scene before their first Granada appearance: Barney is fumbling and worried, drummer Steven Morris frozen with nerves whilst bassman Hooky is bolshy and belching. The story may be dark but there’s plenty of humour which is part of the tale.

Curtis himself is precisely played as the sensitive poetic front-man who marries young and then fucks his life up getting caught up in an affair with a Belgian journalist Annik Honore. His long suffering partner Debbie Curtis is shown as the patient wife moving into a different world from her cult rock star husband. Whilst he’s on the road becoming the hippest young singer in the UK she's pushing the pram with their firstborn round Macclesfield.

It’s that backdrop of kitchen sink banality and rainy day humdrum that makes Curtis’s muse seem even more powerful. The conflict between Curtis who works in the Macclesfield dole office, and the sudden elevation of his band to cult stardom is very clear. By day mild-mannered Jobscentre clerk, a self confessed Monarchist, and by night the best frontman in the UK who’s all too brief career left great music.

Control also captures the seedy coldness of old Manchester, the post punk years with the cheap thrills and the cheap drugs in a city that is totally unrecognizable from the one we live in now. It grabs the descent of Curtis’s life as epilepsy hits and paranoia follows. You watch as uncertainty over when the next fit might occur, coupled with guilt over his affair builds to the dark ending.

The stories powerful emotional kick is tough to avoid and it takes a hard heart not to shed a tear when the distraught Debbie discovers her husband’s body after his second and successful suicide attempt.

Control is the best rock film I’ve ever scene. Period.

Control is at Cornerhouse from Friday 5 October. First showing 1.10pm last showing 10.30pm.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

superdog 500October 3rd 2007.


superdog 500October 3rd 2007.

"Control is the best rock film I’ve ever seen. Period."Either this is an impossibly grand claim or someone doesn't get out to the pictures much. Oh and seen is spelt wrong.

JohnOctober 3rd 2007.

" Best rock film ever" , haven't seen (or should that be "scene") Control yet but despite a small selection to choose from, there are a few contenders. I was blown away by Woodstock when it first came out particularly seeing it in the old cinerama picture house where the ghastly M2 now festers. "Almost Famous" certainly captures the atmosphere of a certain time. However, the ultimate rock movie, particularly if you've ever been in the music business, has to be "Spinal Tap". For capturing the sheer stupidity, petulance, greed and self-importance of musicians it's unsurpassed.By the way, Superdog 500, if you're going to check others' spelling, you should perhaps check your own grammar, "wrongly" not "wrong".

scottOctober 3rd 2007.

yep, saw control today, still keep up my thoughts that last waltz is top. control exactly what anyone would have imagined. tells the story exactly the same as 24 hour party people does, but drags it out and tries to be arty in the process. starts off inspirational, but in the end, i end up not liking ian curtis, surely not the point

Mr PorterOctober 3rd 2007.

No then, surely the best rock film ever is The Scorpion King. Do I win £5?

scottOctober 3rd 2007.

never seen a good rock film jonathan? either you havent seen many films, or your very hard to please, but you say 24 hour party people the best you've seen, so the latter isnt true. in my opinion, The Last Waltz, is the greatest rock and roll film ever, less of a film, and more of a gig, but still, theres no beating it.

dougOctober 3rd 2007.

the last waltz is the worst rock film ever made...its hours of horrible beardy types waffling about on stage and a perfect reason for the cleansing power of punk rock...the music, its everything that went wrong with music in one foul boring whole!

AnonymousOctober 3rd 2007.

by describing the film as a rock n roll, surely you are completely missing the point of it - a tale of the love story between ian and his wife?

LouiseOctober 3rd 2007.

I agree, surely the last waltz is the best rock film ever made, it overcomes the 'cover band' syndrome most rock biopics suffer from. however, this is a very phalo-centric review... What about Samantha morton's acting? and the fact that this film was based on the book by deborah curtis and is mainly about curtis's relationships??

mandyOctober 3rd 2007.

What? interpreting 'rock' loosely means such gems from Hard Days Night to Spinal Tap, The Commitments, almost Famous and obviously every Elvis film ever made.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 3rd 2007.

Superdog 500, I'm waiting until I've watched it until I judge. Can't remember any excellent rock films although I enjoyed 24 Hour Party People. Thanks for spotting the typo.... scene is believing after all.

KathOctober 3rd 2007.

'phalo centric review' is this the twitterings of some hebden bridge straw headed man hater....check the last paragraph dunce!'The stories powerful emotional kick is tough to avoid and it takes a hard heart not to shed a tear when the distraught Debbie discovers her husband’s body after his second and successful suicide attempt.'

mandyOctober 3rd 2007.

www.timeout.com/…/… article on music films. looking forward to the Dylan one as well!

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