Just a word of warning if you haven’t seen Control yet: For a long time after seeing it, you’re going to have a hard time not weeping when listening to Joy Division. The production had so many ways it could go wrong, from first time director Anton Corbijn to casting the unknown Sam Riley as the now latger-than-life Ian Curtis (and having him opposite Oscar nominee Samantha Morton, at that) and throwing in an inexperienced cinematographer shooting in black and white. Yet there’s no way to do a movie about Ian Curtis without defying expectations in some way, and it’s even more fitting to come up with something as wholly original as Control.
That Dutch-born Corbijn hadn’t even seen any traditional music biopics before shooting, instead coming from a deep understanding of the source material — he was one of the band’s favorite photographers. Although it’s become a biopic given to focus on society’s impact on the man in terms of the trappings of fame, Control focuses exclusively on the man himself, in all his personal torment, character flaws, and poetry. What other biopic would appraisals of the lead’s fame be shot down by his wife insisting she “still washes his underpants”? The music of Joy Division certainly drives the film, but you’re not likely to see another rock biopic with as much silence in between.
Since the film premiered over a year ago, you’d expect a lavish DVD. There’s plenty of quality material to be found on the disc, but it’s not as exhaustive as it could have been. In Corbijn’s commentary, he talks about more than an hour of footage that was not used in the final cut. It seems like a wasted opportunity that none of it was included on the DVD. The making-of featurette and conversation with Corbijn are somewhat repetitive, especially after watching the commentary. And although the complete recording of the actors’ live performances is interesting in how eerily closely they resemble the sound of Joy Division, it would have been nice to see more rare actual Joy Division footage dug up other than the ubiquitous BBC performance.
Still, the DVD provides evidence of just how extraordinary an accomplishment a film Control is, more for what it didn’t do than what it did. It didn’t rely on a big-name but poorly cast star, it didn’t trivialize the material, and it didn’t get caught up in hero worship in fairly depicting its characters. Movies like this don’t come around that often, and the heart-on-the-sleeve nature of the whole project is a testament to the power of the D.I.Y. spirit.