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Reaching For Nirvana
by Scott Tunstall

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Another tortured genius.

Another tortured genius.
The band New Order is probably familiar to many. They were instrumental in popularizing dance and electronica music during the '80s and '90s by melding a post-punk sound with burgeoning technologies such as synthesizers and computerized distortion. The casual fan might not be aware of New Order's original incarnation -- a band called Joy Division. Led by frontman Ian Curtis, Joy Division helped define a new brand of alternative music in late '70s Manchester, England. It was Curtis' sudden suicide at age 23 that paved the way for New Order. The film CONTROL documents the rise and descent of Curtis, a footnote in the history of rock who unfortunately is known more for how he died than how he lived.

CONTROL - 2007

From the time he was a teenager, Ian Curtis dreamed of something beyond his pedestrian middle class upbringing. He worshiped David Bowie and took to writing poetry as a form of escapism.
Better days.

Better days.
After meeting and falling for his future wife Debbie, Curtis approaches a band in need of a lead singer. Together, they form the band that would eventually be named Joy Division.

After catching the eye and ear of local music producer Tony Wilson, Joy Division becomes one of the first bands to be signed to Wilson's Factory Records label. With a newly pregnant wife and a band headed for superstardom, Curtis distances himself from those around him, except for his French mistress, Annik. Torn between his feelings for both women, he slowly begins to spiral out of control. Unable to cope with the pressures of life and fame, Curtis ended it all in May of 1980.

Director Anton Corbijn paints this stark biopic in gorgeous black-and-white. The images pop from start to stop as we look inside the troubled mind of a forgotten genius. The fact that we never get a clear picture of Curtis is appropriate. Even  Debbie struggled 
Giving his heart and soul.

Giving his heart and soul.
to decipher his many complexities. The naive, charming boy that captured her heart evolved into a shadow of a man who battled many demons, including epilepsy. Curtis poured everything into his manic performances. His wild, often spastic stage antics became his signature. Fans flocked to witness his unique style and feed off his powerful charisma.

Sam Riley delivers a compelling performance as Curtis. It can't be easy portraying such a mysterious persona, but Riley pulls it off with gusto. Equally impressive is the always interesting Samantha Morton. Watching her transform from timid teen wife to hardened single mother is one of the best story threads in the film. You don't have to know anything about Joy Division or Curtis to enjoy CONTROL. It is a well-crafted drama that has more to say about conflicted relationships than the music industry. Despite the inevitable conclusion, the journey is still worth taking.

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Eye On The Overlooked
Every other Sunday

A lot of great movies slip through the cracks. I'm here to catch them.

Other Columns
Other columns by Scott Tunstall:

High School Can Be Murder

A Wolf In Girl's Clothing

Southern Hospitality

Ten Great Films From the 2000s

Down With The System

All Columns

Scott Tunstall
Scott is a freelance writer currently living in the Southeast. He is a film school grad with a love of theory and screenwriting. His tastes vary from obscure niche films to giant Hollywood blockbusters. In other words, he'll watch pretty much anything.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Scott Tunstall by clicking here.

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