For those unfamiliar with the 2007 film, Control follows the life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division, from 1973 until 1980, the year Curtis committed suicide. The film draws primarily from a book written by Ian’s wife, Deborah Curtis, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division (1995), and is directed by the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn.
Corbijn made his name in Holland as a gig photographer, combining his love of music with an eye for composition and a distinctive raw black and white style. Chasing his musical loves to the UK in the 1970′s, his work became synonymous with influential music magazines such as NME, his photographs of post-punk era bands and artists like Tom Waits and David Bowie came to define the visual style of a period. Later Corbijn was to become more directly involved with the visual output of a number of bands, most notably Depeche Mode and U2, who’s photography and album art Corbijn has produced for several decades.
His move from into the world of moving images came in the early 80′s as a number of bands who he had previously photographed asked him to direct music videos for them. U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, and later bands such as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and At The Drive-In have all had videos directed by Corbijn. With the exception of a short film made in the mid 90′s, Control was Corbijn’s first feature film.
The screening presented last weekend was held at the Duke of York picturehouse as part of the Brighton Festival and featured the 35mm print of the film. Whilst I’d love to be enough of a cinephile to fully appreciate the subtleties of seeing a film rather than digital print, the romanticism of seeing the film on the original medium in the oldest continuously operating purpose built cinema in Britain did not go unnoticed.
Seeing a feature film produced by a photographer ensures that there will be the inevitable examination of how the moving image compares to the still. Shot in black and white, Control for me bears more than a passing resemblance to Corbijn’s still work.
Whilst my knowledge of cinematography is somewhat scant, the grain and composition of many of the film’s shots feel so familiar to the world of still images. The layering of planes within the frame, the shots looking from one room into another, the action framed by a doorway in the foreground draw such a strong parallel with Corbijn’s photography. Corbijn himself has played down comparisons between the two,
“I didn’t want to make the film look like my photographs,” he said. “A lot of people said it did but that’s just because it’s black-and-white. I wanted all the greys in there and I didn’t just want to make what I knew into a film.” (Anton Corbijn, ‘Shadowplay: An interview with Anton Corbjin‘, 19 May 2011, BJP)
however I think it’s more than simply that they’re both black and white. The long slow pans, the passivity of the camera and the closeness with which many of the characters are shots all feel like part of Corbijn’s body of still work. Corbijn himself has talked about the pacing of the film and it’s relationship to the period being depicted
“This film takes place in the seventies, a time when we moved at a slower pace. Rapid-fire editing has changed the way we look at film and decreased out attention spans. I like looking at people walk into a room, move their bodies and hands without relying on close-ups. I like looking at a picture, not being guided by an editor. I don’t think the film is slow, but they’re moments of reflection. ” (Anton Corbjin, NYFF Interview: Anton Corbijn, 12 October 2007, Ion Cinema)
Regardless of how ‘photographic’ it’s style, it’s a beautiful film, shot with an eye for composition and grain that evokes a time and life with rarely seen sensitivity.