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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Exhuming Ian

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This post is dedicated to the memory of Ian Curtis, and to the fans of Joy Division the world over, in particular, Walski's good buddy, Lord Panda, who gave Walski the heads-up on Control.

Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketMention the name Ian Curtis, and it wouldn't surprise Walski if the reaction were a blank stare. And unless you were an art afficionado, the same would probably apply to the name Anton Corbijn. Put the two names together, and the likely result, a resounding "Huh"?

If the slightly condescending paragraph above applies, then here's something to get you up to speed (if not, then you may skip the next paragraph).

Joy Division is, perhaps, one of popular and rock music's least talked-about important influences - at least in the Malaysian music circles. Joy Division (originally naming themselves Warsaw) was formed in the mid-Seventies by four lads from around Manchester, named Peter Hook, Stephen Morriss, Bernard Sumner, and their front-man, Ian Curtis. Signed to Factory Records, they were on the verge of making it big in the British post-punk era of music, when Curtis killed himself. The remaining 3 members went on to form New Order (which Walski's sure you've heard of).

The second day of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival featured the debut film by renowned visual artist Anton Corbijn. If the name sounds familiar, Corbijn is the artistic genius behind some memorable visual output associated with bands such as U2 and Depeche Mode. Included in his repertoire have been videos such as Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box, and Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus. Corbijn's film, Control, is a biopic of Ian Curtis, recounting the singer's life, from Joy Division's rise to fame, till Curtis' tragic death.

The film, which premiered at Cannes on May 17, has reportedly been named the Best European film at the festival (source: Irish Examiner). Without doubt, a great achievement for the film rookie. Despite Control being the first ever feature film that Corbijn has directed, his work related to music, however, is legendary. Wikipedia has a long list of artists and acts that Anton Corbijn has been associated with over the years.
(bringing a legend to the big screen, and videos, in the full post)

Image hosting by PhotobucketActor Sam Riley plays the tragic Ian Curtis
(any guesses who is whom?)

This, however, is not the first time that Joy Division, or Ian Curtis, have been the subject of a film. The 2002 cult hit 24 Hour Party People, documenting the rise and fall of Factory Records, features the group quite prominently. Incidentally, actor Sam Riley, who plays the role of the tragic Joy Division frontman, also appears in 24 Hour Party People, playing a bit role portrayal of Mark E. Smith, frontman of The Fall. His portayal of Curtis, as Walski has read so far, is uncanny. Check out this unofficial trailer for Control, which has recently surfaced (via YouTube).

Now compare Sam Riley as Curtis, with the real Ian Curtis, in this un-dated BBC footage of Joy Division (also via YouTube).

So, why did Anton Corbijn decide to venture into fim making, and why make a film about Ian Curtis, and Joy Division, for his debut - in black & white, to boot? This interview of Anton Corbijn, from a Dutch television program reveals some answers (subtitled in English, from YouTube).

The film's script has been adapted from the biographical "Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division" written by Deborah Curtis, widow of the Joy Division frontman. Walski hasn't read the book, nor does he know how true to the book the film is. Curtis suffered from epileptic seizures, and had been known to develop fits while onstage.

It is generally believed that barbituarates, typically prescribed to epileptics in those days, were what caused the violent mood swings, and contributed towards his depression. Coupled with his heavy consumption of alcohol, and his affair outside of his marriage to Deborah, all these pressures led Ian to live the last few years of his young life in despair. In part, that very despair contributed to the genius that the world remembers Joy Division for.

And that despair ending, of course, with his eventual suicide at the young age of 23.

Ian Curtis hanged himself, with a clothesline, on May 18, 1980, on the eve of when Joy Division was to have left for the US for their first ever American tour. He would have celebrated his 51st birthday on July 15, were he alive today.

Following Curtis' death, the remaining 3 members went on to form New Order, recruiting Gillian Gilbert on keyboards (and guitar) duty in the process. New Order, of course, has gone to even greater success, and is still around today. Gillian Gilbert, who is married to drummer Stephen Morris, left New Order in 2001 to take care of their children, who were ill at the time, and was replaced by Phil Cunningham.

New Order, according to Wikipedia, provides original incidental music on the film, while live performances in the film were by the actors themselves. Also, in the film is music from the period (like from David Bowie and The Sex Pistols), taken from original recordings.

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe film has been very well received by critics at the Cannes festival, according to reports published on NewOrderOnline. And Sam Riley's portrayal of Ian Curtis? The critics have given a resounding thumbs up, with this report (originally from The Telegraph) describing Riley's performance as "outstanding" and "spectacular".

What would be interesting to do is to watch Control, then revisit 24 Hour Party People, to see the similarities and differences of how Ian Curtis and Joy Division were viewed through two different perspectives. The former from the eyes of someone knee-deep in the the life of the troubled Ian Curtis, while the latter is from the perspective of Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records (watch it if you haven't already, by the way).

As for release dates, it's not immediately known when Control will be released internationally. Thus far, IMDB reports that the film will be released in France this September, while the Netherlands release in October. A Joy Division fan site that Walski went to states that the UK release will be in September as well.

And the release of Control in Malaysia? Walski certainly hopes it's soon after.

To 40-some music-heads like Walski, Control is an important film, and one that will undoubtedly gain rapid cult status, as it is the first full-length motion picture to focus on Joy Division, and Ian Curtis. While Joy Division may not have gotten the recognition they more than deserved, while the band was still around, their legacy of music lives on till this day.

Rest in peace, Ian. Your short, troubled and enigmatic life may have been a cry for help, which everyone misunderstood, but the resulting genius and legacy you left behind will be remembered - forever...