Total Control

Joy Division leader Ian Curtis, who hanged himself in 1980, just prior to the planned start of his band's first American tour, is among rock's most famous suicides; in this country, only Kurt Cobain compares. Rather than dance around this topic, director Anton Corbijn uses it as subtext in every frame of Control, an often compelling Curtis biography that opens today. Indeed, the film begins with a voiceover of Sam Riley, who’s striking as Curtis, intoning, "Existence — what does it matter?"

Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh's adaptation of Touching From a Distance, by Deborah Curtis, the wife Ian left behind, gives short shrift to some of the singer's less sympathetic peculiarities, including his fascination with Nazism. Instead, the narrative focuses on the love triangle involving Ian, Deborah (Samantha Morton) and Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), a Belgian fanzine writer, as well as his struggles with epilepsy. But if this approach proves a bit simplistic at times, the film's black-and-white imagery is bracingly complex, recalling early-'60s British character studies like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner — and the music, which blends period tracks with Joy Division material actually performed by Riley and the actors portraying his bandmates, is sonically and emotionally spot-on. That's less true of the film's final quarter, which draws out and fetishizes Curtis's last act to an unnecessary degree. But audience members will hardly be able to claim that they didn't see it coming.

Control screens today starting at 4:30 p.m. at Starz FilmCenter in the Tivoli and continues its run through November 1. Tickets are $5.75 to $8.75; get more details at or 303-820-3456.
Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2007

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts