I rented the DVD of Control this week. It's the life story of Ian Curtis of Joy Division, as filtered through the medium of his wife's book and the bleak kitchen-sink influenced film making of Anton Corbijn. (You may know him from such films as 'everything Depeche Mode ever did'.)
We all know the end - Ian Curtis hangs himself at 23 - but the director keeps it on track as a document from first to last. I grew up in Yorkshire, leaving in 1976. Curtis and the band grew up around Manchester (Lancashire) at exactly the same time. Perhaps the shock of self-recognition is in the story itself, not in the cinematography or direction. The album covers, fashions, dialect, haircuts, and soundtrack of Bowie, Iggy, Bowie, Lou, Bowie... all were familiar to me from the little diary I kept in those days, one or two secretive lines a day.
Ian Curtis didn't write a line or two a day, but kept notebooks bulging with poetry. I hadn't realized that the man who so personified teenage angst, poetry and depression was not actually a gloomy, clinically-depressed glowerer, but a perfectly regular kid who developed epilepsy in his late teens. Either the disease or the fistsfull of prescription drugs he took for it seem to have clouded his judgment, or at least that's the impression the film gives. His suicide was not the result of some awful T. S. Eliot bout of introspection but rather that he stole his best friend's girl, married her very young, encouraged her to have a baby too soon, and then - bloody rock stars - fell in love with a pretty European girl and couldn't figure out what to do about it. Drinking a bottle of whisky, listening to Iggy's The Idiot and watching a Werner Herzog movie on the TV one night surely didn't help.
The movie does not dwell too much on the Manchester scene, though we see a little of punk and post-punk around. We meet Tony Wilson, of Granada TV and Factory Records, of course. We see Joy Division's robust manager and their heavy, mohican'd roadie. (It seems that one constant in any rock band's success is the early acquisition of the loyalty of a heavy who will be your roadie. There's a philosophy in that somewhere.)
According to the film, at least, success didn't actually bring them any money - they seemed to be on a low weekly wage throughout. The bleak mid-seventies northern row-houses feature heavily, with their gas instant-water-heaters rusting on the wall near square ceramic sinks, the baby imprisoned in a little playpen on the miniature living room floor and the hand-washed arrays of babygros (onesies) dripping near the kitchen ceiling on the creel (a wooden rack for drying clothes, raised and lowered on a rope).
There's a few amusing bits. In particular, where it resembled the less carefree moments of Gregory's Girl (which I highly recommend), some of the tactics the band use to get noticed and some the manager uses to get someone else out in front of a budding riot. The music is awesome - recreated by the actors for the film, it manages to be Joy Division, although I think this will have more effect on people who already know the music, where a couple of riffs will do it. Joy Division's full impact comes over after a good long listen, and the three minutes or so each song gets in the film may be to short to catch a newbie's attention.
There didn't seem to be a take-home message. The person who watched it with me said, "It's an argument for a manager giving the band some of the money earlier. You can't hang yourself in a tumble-dryer."
And that's a fact.