Control, the new Ian Curtis biopic, just doesn't have the same commercial prospects as Ray or Walk the Line. Rather than ending, "...and he went on to become an American icon," this one wraps up, "...and the Macclesfield, England native committed suicide on the eve of the band's first U.S. tour." While a movie about the lead singer of Joy Division may not arouse mass interest, especially when it's shot in grim black and white, it is nonetheless a worthy picture.
The film follows Curtis from Bowie-obsessed teen to his death at 23, although the time frame between those points is vague. It shows his swagger and bravado, stealing his friend's girlfriend, approaching Tony Wilson and demanding that the band appear on the TV show Wilson hosts, so different from the public persona of his awkward, spastic stage presence, which actor Sam Riley captures perfectly. It delves into his ambivalence over fame, his ambivalence over his marriage which he refuses to end despite being in love with his mistress, and his unmanageable epilepsy, all of which lead him to his inevitable end.
While so much of the film is bleak, from the Manchester scenery to the band's spartan songs, it also finds plenty of levity. In an early scene with the band, bass player Peter Hook is portrayed as exceedingly flatulent. (I interviewed the man himself on several occasions and never recall hearing him let one fly.) He and a schoolmate visit an old lady just to raid her medicine cabinet. When he suffers an epileptic seizure on stage his manager tells him afterward, "Could be worse. You could be the singer for the Fall." Only followers of Mark E. Smith (of which my husband and I appeared to be the only ones in the theater) can appreciate why that is such a specific put-down, but it works even without such Manchester music knowledge.
Control is playing at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, 773.871.6604.