Joy Division – Under Review (Sexy Intellectual)

With this review I bid a less-than-fond farewell to reviewing anything from the Under Review DVD series. The premise is alluring – taking a look back at some of the greatest rock artists of the past 50 years – but the reality is that a majority of the footage for these DVDs comes from interviews with music writers, and who wants to watch that? There’s a reason music reviews are written and not videotaped. Joy Division’s music is great, and their story is a fascinating one but when it gets told by people who weren’t part of it, there’s a major disconnect. The snippets of concert footage is welcome, but they end too soon, and always give way to another snoozefest interview. Fans looking to find out more about the band are better off reading articles, watching 24 Hour Party People, waiting for the long-rumored biopic to come out, or scouring Youtube for good video clips. Anything but this. 

Control – Directed by Anton Corbijn (Genius Products)

Anton Corbijn’s biopic about the short and troubled life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis succeeds on some levels and fails on others. The film’s strongest point is Corbijn’s visual style – he makes excellent use of stark black and white photography, and he has a keen eye for capturing iconic images, no doubt a trait brought over from his career in photography. He also tells the Ian Curtis/Joy Division story in a very real and unexaggerated way; something that’s increasingly rare in the bloated world of rock biopics. The band is never falsely portrayed as more successful than they were and in the scenes where the band plays live they come across sloppy, which they were. The acting is also uniformly excellent, with Sam Riley doing a spot on Ian Curtis, and Samantha Morton also scoring big points as Deborah Curtis, Ian’s wife (whose book “Touching From A Distance” was used as source material).

So why, if it has all these great qualities, is Control so hard to recommend? It comes down to one thing: bleakness. If you know the Ian Curtis story then you know that it’s not one for an “enjoyable viewing experience”. In reality Joy Division were four soft-spoken, mild-mannered guys from a depressing part of the UK – and while you have to commend the director for showing it like it really was, there’s an entertainment factor missing here. For anyone who wants to see the filmed version of the Ian Curtis story, they can certainly watch this, but they could also get the same material, handled in a more entertaining and succinct way in 24 Hour Party People, or the Joy Division documentary, instead.

Fun fact about the film: When Ian suffers from an epileptic fit, a character comments “At least you’re not the lead singer in The Fall” (aka Mark E. Smith). Sam Riley, who plays Ian Curtis here, also played Mark E. Smith in 24 Hour Party People, in a scene that didn’t make it into the final cut.

DVD Extras: The Making of Control, an interview with Corbijn, still gallery, extended live performances, three music videos (two from Joy Division and one from The Killers), and two trailers.