Joy Division | Atrocity Exhibition

dvd_joydiv_sm.jpgFor Control, Williams had been toying with the idea for over ten years before a desire to work with Corbijn and to make a Joy Division film fell into place.








2007 appeared to be Joy Division’s year in cinema. Both a narrative biopic of the band’s iconic lead singer Ian Curtis and a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of the band premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, the former receiving a special mention in the Camera d’Or section for first-time filmmakers. Control and Joy Division, both now available separately on DVD from The Weinstein Company, offered varying perspectives on the band. For Control, Dutch photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn, whose photographs of the band are likely what you think of while listening to them, explored Curtis’ struggle as an artist and a man, before killing himself at the age of 23, not long before Joy Division was to embark upon their first U.S. tour. For Joy Division, director Grant Gee, probably best known for his film Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy, examined the lineage of the band in the context of their Manchester surroundings and the impact they had on the music world. I talked with the producers of both films—Orian Williams, who, in addition to Control, worked with director E. Elias Merhige on Shadow of the Vampire, and Tom Atencio, who, along with managing New Order in North America, has coordinated the soundtracks of films like Paul Schrader’s Cat People and Where the Buffalo Roam. Joy Division is Atencio’s first time as a film producer.

"You hear the music referenced more than ever," Atencio attested to the recent interest in the band, both musically and cinematically. Both producers had been working on the ideas for their respective films for years prior to their releases, with Williams citing Deborah Curtis’ book, in addition to her support, as the real clincher for getting Control made. Neither film marked the first time Joy Division would be explored in film, for Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, which starred Steve Coogan as influential record producer Tony Wilson who "discovered" the band, featured the group. Joy Division’s inclusion was brief; Ian Curtis, there played by Sean Harris, dies within the first hour of the film, making way for the film’s focus on The Happy Mondays. "We just knew we wanted to do something completely different," Williams added.

For Control, Williams had been toying with the idea for over ten years before a desire to work with Corbijn and to make a Joy Division film fell into place. Samantha Morton, who plays Deborah Curtis, was the first on board. "After seeing her in Morvern Callar, I knew I wanted her," Williams said, even suggesting that the idea of Morvern Callar‘s director, Lynne Ramsay, as a possibility for directing the film before Corbijn agreed. "[Corbijn] just picked up the phone and called [Morton]," he added; the two had worked previously on the U2 video for "Electrical Storm." For Sam Riley, who heartbreakingly portrays Curtis from his teenage years to his death, Williams wanted an unknown, and with Riley, "it was in his eyes" that put him above other possibilities that might have looked or sounded more like Curtis.

"We never wanted to make a biopic, or even a music film," Williams added. Control marked Corbijn’s first bout as a feature director, as well as for writer Matt Greenhalgh. When watching the film, one can’t help but see what Williams spoke of. Control is hardly the machine-churned biopic Hollywood is so used to, and aided by Martin Ruhe’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the film emerges as more than just Ian Curtis by way of Ray or Walk the Line. Williams even added that, in shooting the film in black and white, Control became something separate for him, a work of art that’s finished product seemed void of the memories of confusion on the set or crew dispute.

With Joy Division, Atencio wanted to look at the band from a more cultural perspective. Containing interviews from former members of Joy Division—who, as you know, went on to create New Order—Joy Division placed the band in their surroundings; as Atencio stated, "Their music was a reflection of that environment." In response to my own reservation that the guys from New Order play off their impact as a bunch of young guys just messing around, Atencio remarked that "it’s important to understand that these were a bunch of 22-year-old guys," dispelling my own hesitation to such a theory. "I don’t think anyone sets out to make world-class music. I think it’s something you’re able to do or you’re not," he added, leaving no real question as to where Joy Division fell.

Are Control and Joy Division the end-all for Joy Division on film? Neither Atencio nor Williams would say one way or the other. "You think it’s all been said, but you never know how it’s going to affect really creative artists," Atencio observed. Williams added that part of the band’s appeal is the cloud of mystery that would surround their short, significant lifespan. "Would [Joy Division] have become Echo and the Bunnymen or The Smiths? Would they have had as much influence? I don’t know. The beginning of a band’s life is when they’re most fertile and most infected with this intense passion, the ability to create something out of nothing." Perhaps all hasn’t been said about the dour rock group, but if you’re looking for the best of what’s been said so far, you have your cinematic references. | Joe Bowman

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