NPR logo Shadowplay

Shadowplay

Recently, I watched Control, the Anton Corbijn film about Joy Division's Ian Curtis. The film is shot in black-and-white, which does everything to preserve the images one has about the group: colorless and of another time; as if the band, even while it existed, had never truly been accessible, barely existing beyond filmic lore. It's always hard to watch a film whose sadness permeates before the opening shot is revealed. There's a sense of heaviness to committing oneself to watch a movie that can only have one inevitable ending.

Yet despite that, and likely due to Control's magnificent performances, I couldn't help but be dragged into the life and into the living, breathing man who was Ian Curtis, making his onscreen death actually seem unbelievable. I pointlessly and pitifully hoped for a Hollywood ending — some Spielberg rendition wherein Ian Curtis is alive, working on soundtracks, writing poetry and prepping a reunion tour.

What I loved most about the movie was that it reminded me what a punk band Joy Division was. In the days following my viewing of Control, I kept the group's records on my turntable, the songs strange and strained. When I think about Joy Division's music, I think mostly of their legacy, their successors and their sphere of influence. And that makes me think of them as more fully formed than they really were. But hearing their music again, it has the unpolished and unsure footing of early outings. It isn't immature so much as splendidly unhindered.

Watch Joy Division in color:

What is it about those bands that break up after one album, or whose output is cut short by tragedy? They capture our imaginations in a way much different than the living, than the still-existing, than the stories whose chapters continue to unfold. What constitutes fleeting: one album? Two? None at all? Those early and untimely leavers disappoint us much less often —beyond, of course, the ultimate betrayal of being gone in the first place. It's nearly impossible not to wonder what the evolution would have been; how the music would have progressed. Maybe, sadly, nowhere, or at least nowhere more beautiful. But we'll never know. I suppose films like Control partially exist to both remind us what was and what could have been, and to remember to appreciate what, thankfully, still is.

About