Thursday, October 25, 2007

In praise of the obscure!

Recently, I saw Control: the Ian Curtis film. It was a speedy decision to see it in the first place, and I was largely unprepared as such. My mindset was quickly transformed however and the intensity that the film offered did in my opinion, place me somewhere in the consciousness of the man himself.
First of all, it is entirely black & white which renders it all the more bleak but being monochrome in hue, the film has preserved the authenticity of Joy Division’s public image today. After all, fans and listeners alike have only seen black & white photographs of the band and Curtis himself, and the film successfully continues this long tradition of destitution and dreariness that is most associated with late 70s Manchester. No need to go into detail about the atmosphere within the film then as it is completely self-evident.
What did however surprise me was the wealth of humour that was present, particularly in the beginning. The introduction of the band’s manager, Rob Gretton, especially stood out as a fine example of this straightforward and rather artless humour which complimented brilliantly the distressing emotional and physical derangement, generally pervading the film.
Likewise, the depiction of characters is accomplished with this distinct, simple efficacy that more or less reminded me of a George Orwell novel. They are sorely realistic but their symbolical effect on Curtis’ mind is reinforced again and again which makes the film very incisive in psychological terms.
The actor, Sam Riley, puts a remarkably unique performance. His ability to emulate Curtis’ trademark singing style exhibits such effort and dedication that it instantly reminded me of the feelings I get when watching Curtis himself performing in videos.
Observing the performances portrayed in the film, you are showered with this immediate sensation which consists of telling yourself that he is so ridiculous and yet so brilliant.

You would doubtlessly be struck by this feeling and it is through such instances that the film’s authenticity towers above other such ‘documentary’ films which often fail to capture the essence of their context and as such belie their original purpose.
A naturally recurring theme in the film is epilepsy. When it comes to seizures, Riley’s acting is almost brutal though perhaps a little too much so. During such epileptic fits, he staggers about so violently and this somehow betrays the convincing nature of his performance but nevertheless, it is realism that the audience expects and ultimately gets – one of the strongest points of the film.
The tedium of Manchester at the time is visually captivating, complete with Ballardian landscapes, council estates and general gloominess.

The magnificent paralleling of Joy Division songs and particular scenes of the film sheds enormous insight into Curtis’ lyrics. One such occasion is his parting with his wife Deborah, immediately after which ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is played in the background, serving as a powerful accompaniment to the scene.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is the fact that its principal character, Ian Curtis, is not portrayed as the archetypal artist of genius. On the contrary, he’s mostly weak and frail when it comes to dealing with his own emotional and moral vicissitudes. He relies heavily on other people to support him mentally and often ‘loses control’ not due to epilepsy but because of sheer sadness – infinite sadness.
This helps the film rather and in no way does it deduct power from its protagonist who though saying very little, speaks volumes through his plain honesty and personal magnetism.

It is not hard to see therefore that the film would become a classic in some years time, gently adding to the cult and mystery of Joy Division rather than overblowing it and casting it into the abysmal mould of commercialism.