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The best rock n roll film ever?

So says John Robb after watching the Ian Curtis biopic, Control

Published on October 5th 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. How could you make a film about that?

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

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.

It’s one of the first rock films to actually do the job. Because, lets 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. Most people in the film world 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 damp towns.

Control could have gone badly wrong, like the film about the Doors whose biopic by Oliver Stone was more of a flabby mess than big Jim himself when he clambered into his final bath.

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 lensman Kevin Cummins, helped set the band's image in stone.

In 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 they manage to get actors who looked the people they were meant to be, but also captured their gritty personalities.

Joy Division manager the late Rob Gretton is brilliantly remembered as the 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 while bassman Hooky is bolshy and belching. The story may be dark but there’s plenty of proper humour which is part of the tale.

Curtis himself is precisely played as the sensitive, poetic frontman who marries young and then messes 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. While he’s on the road, 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 his job in the Macclesfield dole office, and the sudden elevation of his band to stardom is very clear.

Control grabs the descent of Curtis’s life as he gets ill with epilepsy and the paranoia this brought on - never knowing when the next fit was going to be and the guilt of his affair all building up to the dark ending.

The 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 seen. Period.

Control opens at FACT this Friday.

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