The Perfect Music Biopic
Remember back in 2016 when it seemed like there was a new biopic coming out every month or so? Over the span of the next few years, audiences were bombarded with movies about artists like Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Mötley Crüe, and even Mayhem. But were any of them actually good? The closest we got to a solid music biopic was Elton John's Rocketman which is barely talked about anymore, only three years after its release. For a while I thought about if it was even possible to make a decent biopic without sacrificing any details of the subject's life. Until I saw Control, which I now regard as the best music biopic and a blueprint on how to do the genre justice.
Control is a 2007 film by Dutch director, Anton Corbijn, about the lead singer of Joy Divison, Ian Curtis, and his short, raucous, tragic life. In my opinion, I've always found it easier to take seriously than most of the other dime-a-dozen music biopics. It does so many things to avoid feeling like a soulless cash-grab. For those who don't know, Joy Divison was a post-punk band from Salford, England. Set apart by their dark yet danceable music and the unique, monotonous voice of frontman, Ian Curtis, Joy Division stands today as one of the most influential bands to ever come out of England. Considering their reputation, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to translate their story onto film. The life story of Ian Curtis is one of the most interesting the world of music has to offer, and ended up being just as dark as his music. Married at 19, unsatisfied with domestic life, decides to form a band after attending a Sex Pistols concert, diagnosed with severe, life-altering, epilepsy, hangs himself at 23 years old. The story of Joy Division is a short one, despite being one of the most well-known bands in history, they only existed for four years, and after Curtis' death, the remaining members went on to start synth pop band, New Order. Their lives sounded like a movie script from the start, it was only a matter of time before somebody brought that to the big screen.
I find that Anton Corbijn's Control has a lot more artistic merit than a great deal of movies that try to cover musicians. The entire film is shot in black and white, capturing the dreariness and gloom of Curtis' life. Even as a big fan of Joy Divison, I don't think I've ever seen a colorized photo of the band. If the movie wasn't in black and white, it wouldn't feel like Joy Division. Control has to have some of the best casting I've ever seen, lead actor Sam Riley looks so much like Ian Curtis, it's uncanny, and I really believe that he does the singer justice.
The tragedy of Ian Curtis' life is the sheer brevity of it. He took his own life at the age of 23, which is young even for musicians at the time. He's a figure that people genuinely miss, along the lines of Kurt Cobain, because there's no telling how much more he could've contributed to the world of music if his mental illness hadn't gotten the better of him. As someone who has dealt with similar mental health struggles, Control resonated with me in a way no other music biopic had before. Although the darkness of Joy Division's music and lyrics was celebrated during their time as a band, perhaps it should've been examined a bit more, somebody should've been concerned for Ian. Control and the story of Joy Division as a whole stand as a reminder to check on the people you love. Long live Ian Curtis!