Monday, November 5, 2007

It shouldn't have surprised me that Control is better photographed than directed, which is another way of saying that it's static, not inhabited. Sam Riley's moist-eyed petulance fit Anton Corbijn's conception of Ian Curtis as a personality who didn't reckon the consequences of what he unleashed when penning those lyrics – or, more strikingly, singing them in that voice that even in its formative phase or onstage, removed from the cavernous gelding of Martin Hannett's production, sounded like a tremor, air escaping through an earthen fissure. As his photography indicates, Corbijn's talent is monochromized flattery: glamor run to seed, rebellion in the act of reification (the film poster already looks like a final version of its inevitable Criterion release). In adhering to the superficialities of what we know about Curtis' life, Closer presents the ultimate case for the banality of suicide. The trauma in the victim's head is disproportionate compared to the mundanity of how life is lived.

Simon Reynolds notes that Curtis' lyrics "are existential rather than autobiographical. Rarely straightforwardly drawn from his life, his lyrics strip away the everyday details that observational songwriters use to impart a sense of lived reality." To Corbijn's credit Closer does delineate Curtis' lived reality (some of its more effective scenes show Curtis as a surprisingly compassionate worker at an employment agency), but the film doesn't reconcile the Gothic certainties of Curtis' lyrics, the brutality of his bandmates' music, and the tension between presentation and autobiography. Combing the data of a life for motivation is ultimately fruitless, as any amateur psychologist will confirm, but Corbijn does little probing. He's not good enough of a director to make his lacuna signify at the level of mystery and pity at which Curtis pitched his crises. I found the Joy Division chapters in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People more representative; the disjunction between the band's increasing skill and popularity – the end-of-days euphoria embodied in Steve Coogan's performance as Tony Wilson – and the shock of Curtis' suicide. Its ordinariness too.

As a fervent New Order devotee, I gotta mention Closer's most poignant moment: a still of Curtis' bandmates, numb with grief at a pub table, joined quietly in the corner by Stephen Morris' girlfriend – the past now part of their future, the present well out of hand.

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