Control's cinematographer, Martin Ruhe , had the challenge of replicating director Anton Corbijn's photographic aesthetic into a moving picture. Corbijn's been photographing musicians in elegantly grainy plays of shadow and light that practically burst with melancholy grandeur for over three decades. Early in his career, fascinated with the late 70's post-punk scene then taking off in Manchester, his camera captured many of the most iconic pictures of Joy Division's Ian Curtis (whose short life as lead singer of the band the movie depicts) available to the public. Control, his debut as a director, sets those photographs reverently in motion.
In one of the film's early scenes, the future Ian and Deborah Curtis frolic on the side of a hill that's so strikingly dappled with hyper refined blacks, whites and grays that it takes on a fairytale-like quality.
There's a blunt, schematic feel to much of the film. Sometimes a scene feels like it's nothing but a clunky windup to the musical cue. Corbijn wants to demonstrate how Curtis's life, especially the slow, painful whithering of his marriage to Deborah, fed the muse of his tortured lyrics and wayward distractions. After dropping the bomb on Deborah that he no longer loves her and is, in fact, in love with another woman, Joy Division's most famous song and anthem, Love Will Tear Us Apart awaits a bit too conveniently (slavishly?) at the gates to grace the scene with some narrative enrichment.
What works are the concert scenes, where we get to see the band playing "live" to an audience. Especially good is the scene that lovingly recreates the band's first televised appearance on Wilson's locally based television show in September of 1978. They rip through fierce version of Transmission and Corbijn nicely distills some the hypnotic intensity of their work. A good part of the power of these scenes, I think, beyond their holodeck/time machine-like replication, came from the fact that this was easily the loudest freaking film I've ever seen at the Music Box. Their sound system isn't nearly what it could or should be, but it did a nice job of getting the point across.
So who's lining up the Martin Hannett biopic?