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Anton Corbijn on “Control”

Anton Corbijn on “Control” (photo)

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Most films about real life musicians follow one of two arcs. There’s the rise to fame, fall from grace and redemption one — see “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Ray” and “Walk the Line.” And then there’s the rise to fame, tragic end one — see “The Doors,” “Sid and Nancy” and “La Bamba.” The life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of post-punk band Joy Division who committed suicide at age 23 on the eve of his band’s first U.S. tour, would seem a perfect fit for the latter, but in the careful hands of Anton Corbijn, the Dutch-born photographer and music video director who makes his feature debut with “Control,” Curtis’ tale becomes anything but that of a rock martyr. Shot in bracing black and white, “Control” follows Curtis from his life as a teenager dreaming of fame in a small town near Manchester through his marriage to his high school girlfriend (a fantastic Samantha Morton) at an awfully tender age, observing the onset of Curtis’ epilepsy, and band’s rise to fame, Curtis’ love affair with a Belgian journalist and eventual downward spiral. It’s the unhappy tale of a life cut short, yes, but it’s also a grounded, exhilarating look at a place, time and extraordinary band. And Corbijn should know — hearing Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” was part of what spurred him to move to England in 1979 as a budding photographer who would eventually shoot the band.

It’s become commonplace for directors these days to use their music video work as a launching pad for a film career — having worked in that field and in photography for so long, what led you to finally decide to make the leap yourself?

I wanted to do a film for a long time. But I’d also done a lot of graphic design and stage design, and I like all kind of different visual disciplines — I like architecture, and want to do something in that. Film was something that I didn’t see as a step up from music videos, though obviously, music videos, the fact that you work with a crew and a film camera, are the closest to film I’ve ever been. That is the only schooling I’ve ever had.

And still, the prospect of making a film was very daunting to me — that’s why I waited till the script came around that I had affinity for, and I felt that that could compensate for the lack of filmmaking skills, to a degree. I felt that if you’re driven enough emotionally by the subject, then maybe that does compensate to a degree.

You’ve mentioned your initial reluctance to take on this film because of fears of being pigeonholed as being someone whose work is always music-related. What kind of film did you imagine yourself making?

A movie that has a universal theme in it, whether it’s real, a love story, or whatever. To me, [“Control”] actually is a love story with some great music on the side — it’s not a music film, just like my photography is not rock photography. You know, I feel very insulted, actually, when people say it’s rock photography — “rock photography” is only about who’s on the picture, not how you take the picture. My subjects are so broad these days — from Nelson Mandela to Alan Ginsburg, Miles Davis, Bono and Isabella Rossellini — it’s nothing like rock photography.

So I was afraid to get pigeonholed — it limits your audience, and I think that that would be a real waste of energy.

There is this particular formula for films about musician — the big performance juxtaposed against flashbacks to childhood and the like. Did any of that influence you in making “Control” so grounded and linear?

I have to say, I haven’t seen that many films in the genre, because it hasn’t interested me so much. The few times I have seen them, I was disappointed. I haven’t seen that many movies, full stop, to be very fair.

But [“Control”‘s] script initially was a bit like that — going forward, flashbacks, and it confused me. And I thought that the drama of the film would be better served if it was a very linear story. So I made it linear when I started shooting.

Curtis’ suicide looms so large and has become such a part of his iconicity — in “24 Hour Party People” it was treated in a way that abrupt and almost glib, and I know some people were offended…

Yeah. I was.

I’ve wondered if it was an attempt to demythologize what happened. Was that something you felt you had to deal with in “Control”?

I wanted to show the end scene to the point where you realize how he committed suicide, but not that he committed suicide. Not the act itself, but, you know, that rather than drowning or taking pills or something like that… that’s the only thing I wanted to say, and that’s why I showed only up to that point. I like these things in the film better — the first thing in the house you see is her folding up the laundry, and then the last thing — it connects these elements. I’m not interested in the glamorous side of things, because I think life isn’t really like that. It’s pretty mundane. And I think to show that beauty can come out of these kind of places is far more interesting than making a film that just connects all kind of highlights.

In that sense, did you try to draw visual parallels between Curtis’ performance style and his epilepsy?

I remember him performing, and that — that was his movement. Some people say, well, it was based on epilepsy, and maybe it was, but it was very much his — I’ve never seen anybody he would have taken those movements from. The importance for me to show Joy Division in the film was also motivated by the fact that he became such a different person when he was on stage. He became this other kind of guy, and I think it was important to show that part of his character. And the dancing… we spent a lot of time getting that right.

You have a personal connection to this scene and to the remaining members of the band — what was their response to the film?

They really loved it. And it was a great relief, of course. I showed them all together, the whole band, in November last year. I think they were anxious, and they thought that they probably wouldn’t all agree on it, but they did. They all loved it. And they did the score for the film, so that was beautiful. And they’ve been verbal about it as well now. They came to Cannes, and they did interviews about it — so it’s very nice. But again, you know, I just wanted to be very fair in the film. I didn’t have any bones to pick with anybody.

“Control” is now playing in theaters.

[Additional photo: Director Anton Corbijn, courtesy of the Weinstein Co, 2007]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.