Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Watching "Control" (The Joy Division Biopic)

We just watched Control, the Anton Corbijn directed movie about Joy Division and more specifically, the story of lead singer Ian Curtis. The movie is shot in black and white and the cinematography is beautiful, just what you would expect from a photographer directing his first film. That being said, the movie is totally useless, in the way all biopics are. I would much rather have watched a well made documentary about Joy Division (there is one), where I could see original footage of their performances and interviews with the surviving band members etc. Instead in the biopic method you have to watch these performances recreated by actors, who may be very good at it, but who cares! I want to see the real thing. One of the all time worst biopics in this respect is Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey's portrayal of Andy Kaufman. What on earth is the point of watching somebody do a karaoke performance of a singularly bizarre comedian's routines? I like Joy Division, but I'm not a hardcore fan, I am however, a hardcore fan of The Smiths (also Mancs) and I can't imagine what a film treatment of their story could possibly do to expand my understanding of the band (who would play Morrissey?).

My two favorite music films, The Velvet Goldmine and 24 Hour Party People, both figure out ways to side step many of the problems and cliches of the biopic genre. The Velvet Goldmine creates fictional characters that closely resemble David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but by not pretending to be creating a factual depiction of what transpired the filmmakers are able to get to the essence of the story. They are also free to re-create the Glam scene as it might have existed in the imagination of a teenage fan.
24 Hour Party People also involves Joy Division in its telling of the story of Tony Wilson (Manchester television presenter, co-founder of Factory Records, Owner of La Hacienda night club, etc.). Steve Coogan, playing Wilson, talks directly to the audience and explains, at various points, what liberties the filmmakers have taken with leaving events, eye witness disagreements about how things happened and so on, it all works very well. See the movies.

Joy Division (the real band)


mark said...

I have been listening to the Rhino Records recently released best of JD, with the remastered tracks, so I have been in the JD mode of late. I was going to rent the movie, but I know what you are saying... 2 words sum up bad band biopics "The Doors".

nuf, said.

Jason said...

I'm right there with you on the overall merits of biopics. "Ray" and "Walk the Line" were both spectacularly useless movies that people kept telling me I had to see and I unfortunately ended up wasting time on. The only biopic I really like is "Basquiat", but that's mostly because of Bowie's portrayal of Warhol which I've taken to doing a bad imitation of at parties whenever the opportunity arises.