Connect with us

Blog

A Black-and-White Phone Book: Control

Watching Anton Corbijn’s sumptuously shot Control, the wisdom of Werner Herzog filled my head.

Published

on

A Black-and-White Phone Book: Control
Photo: The Weinstein Company

Watching Anton Corbijn’s sumptuously shot Control, the wisdom of Werner Herzog filled my head. Responding to charges that he took far too many liberties with real-life events in Rescue Dawn, Herzog responded that “if you’re purely after facts, please buy yourself the phone directory of Manhattan. It has four million times correct facts. But it doesn’t illuminate.”

And this is the problem with Corbijn’s film version of the life of Joy Division’s doomed front man Ian Curtis, based on the book Touching from a Distance by his widow Deborah. On the surface, Corbijn seems the perfect choice to direct the material. After all, he was there—the photographer on the scene during Manchester’s musical heyday, shooting Joy Division and other bands in the same signature style he’d later apply to music videos for Depeche Mode and U2 among others. But it turns out that this insider knowledge is actually Corbijn’s Achilles heel. He’s too close to his subject, so concerned with taking Ian Curtis down from the cross of rock martyrdom and returning him to everyman’s land that he’s unwilling to diverge from the absolute facts. Corbijn has given us a stark, tactile black-and-white phone book, his gorgeous near-noir lighting casting sharp shadows in lieu of illumination.

The result brings to mind Tom Kalin directing for the Lifetime network, the script never rising to the artistic level of the visual. Even Joy Division’s complicated, transcendental music is reduced to simple accents on predictable scenes. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is heard after Ian tells Debbie he doesn’t love her. “Isolation” is played with Ian singing alone behind a soundproof window, isolated from his mistress Annik on the other side. “She’s Lost Control” follows a shot of Ian writing the song’s title in a notepad. And so on until Corbijn ends with “Atmosphere” (the video of which he himself directed after Ian’s life ended). This is not a film. It’s the visualization of a set list.

Ironically, Corbijn’s noble impulse to drain the rock star out of Ian Curtis—to humanize through a straightforward narrative approach—has drained the life out of the man as well. Indeed, Control can be summed up by the equation “gloomy Manchester plus epilepsy plus bizarre love triangle equals suicide.” Unfortunately, people are not that simple—and the epileptic, Bowie-worshipping poet who became the lead singer of a band whose influence continues to this day was most certainly not that simple. To portray things as they happened without delving beneath the surface, without letting fiction tease the truth from fact, does a disservice to Ian Curtis and Joy Division’s music.

Todd Haynes knew better than to tackle Bob Dylan head-on in his forthcoming, nonlinear tribute to the musical chameleon, I’m Not There. I wonder why Corbijn didn’t choose a similar path in portraying Ian Curtis. Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy and Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People both went beyond the cold dreariness of British life in the 70s to expose the explosive, communal spirit of its music scene, a force that shook youth around the world. Corbijn does show how powerful a figure Ian Curtis was by including a scene in which a riot occurs after Joy Division takes to the stage minus its mentally unstable front man. Unfortunately, we’re never quite sure why Corbijn’s “everyday bloke” is so venerated. (In fact, by minimizing band mates Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook as characters, Corbijn is actually elevating the mythic stature of Curtis.) That Ian Curtis was the “man behind the music” is absurd, evidenced by the birth of New Order after his death. What caused the riot was the splintering of the collective subconscious that was Joy Division, of which Ian Curtis was its face and voice. But this context is lost.

Corbijn wants the audience to relate to Ian Curtis, not to elevate him, but he takes such great pains to demonstrate how “normal” he was that his eventual suicide seems to come out of nowhere. The filmmaker shows us someone experiencing the ups and downs of life, but does not reveal the tipping point, that moment when depression turns to desperation. Curtis may have been unknowable, but then again, that’s what art is for—to fill in those mysterious gaps. Control is a beauty to behold, but if it’s illumination you’re after, I suggest curling up with Touching from a Distance while listening to The Warsaw Demo.

Brooklyn-based writer Lauren Wissot is the publisher of the blog Beyond the Green Door, the author of the memoir Under My Master’s Wings, and a contributor to The Reeler.

Advertisement
Comments

Blog

Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

Published

on

Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

Continue Reading

Blog

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

Published

on

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

Continue Reading

Blog

Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

Published

on

Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending