I saw an intriguing movie over the weekend about the short, sad life of Joy Division front man, Ian Curtis. Control (2007) documents Curtis' life from troubled teen to tentative celebrity as well as his struggles with epilepsy and a turbulent marriage.
I actually hadn't thought about Joy Division in a long time. I have a bit of a rocky past with the band.
When I was 12 or 13 I really began getting into music and hung out regularly at Wax Trax! records always looking for new bands to listen to. Joy Division came highly recommended to me and I eagerly bought Unknown Pleasures and couldn't wait to hear it.
I didn't like it.
The music had a heavy bass line and low monotonous vocals. It felt so dark and gloomy and I didn't "get it" (don't forget, I was a pre-teen!). I remember having a conversation with a guy at Wax Trax and being embarrassed to admit that I didn't really like the music. He laughed and said that I was too young and hadn't experienced enough depression to understand. He was probably right because the music did grow on me eventually, though Joy Division has never been one of my very favorite bands.
It was interesting to watch the movie remembering how I felt about that record, because Ian Curtis was truly a joyless person (at least that's how he's portrayed). Brooding, depressed, and hopeless, he killed himself at age 23 right before the band was about to do its first American tour.
The movie shows Curtis as an isolated teen, spending a lot of time in his room listening to David Bowie and Jim Morrison. After attending a Sex Pistols concert, he convinces a struggling band he meets there to let him be their lead singer. The group takes off quickly with television performances and a record deal, but Curtis rarely seems excited--in fact, he appears unhappy with their success. Meanwhile, he has his first epileptic seizure and begins medication that, along with his alcohol consumption, makes him tired and even more depressed. He is also struggling with a disintegrating marriage and an extramarital affair that only adds to his downward spiral.
The movie is filmed in black and white which, I think, contributes to its gloomy feel. I thought the acting was very good--I had never seen any footage of Ian Curtis before, but I have since checked out some videos and it seems the actor portraying him had him down pat. He had an unusual, quirky way of performing with strange arm movements that some have compared to the motions in an epileptic seizure.
Overall, I found the movie interesting, especially in light of my original dislike of the music. I was obviously way too young and innocent to appreciate the eerie "post punk" sound. I feel like I have rediscovered the music now and have a new appreciation of it. In fact, I'm going to re-buy Unknown Pleasures.
Here is a "vintage" pic (circa. early 80s) I have of my old pal at Wax Trax--note the Joy Division sign in the background: