Sunday, 28 October 2007


"I love a party with a happy atmosphere," sang Russ Abbott in a tribute to Joy Division almost as wonderfully wrong as The Wombats annoyingly catchy Let's Dance to Joy Division with its cry of "celebrate the irony" which for me encapsulates all that was wrong with poncy student discos, back in the day when we didn't even say "back in the day" to mean "when we were young".

I went to see Control, the Ian Curtis biopic last night, at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield.
There's probably a cinema like it near you- it also has lots of carefully styled urban bohemians in it, in hand knitted lumpen jumpers, big coats and thick framed spectacles you think may be an affectation of the perfectly sighted, an exhibition space, wi-fi hot spots and tapas in the bar and conference rooms in which terrible seminars can take place complete with flip charts, power point presentations and grim awkward coffee breaks.

It's an independent cinema affiliated to the bunch who run a little trailer at the start of each screening saying how they support European film.
I like it a lot, particularly the veggy tapas.

Our screening of Control due to begin at 5.45pm began perhaps 5 minutes late, which was fine. We were kept fully informed by staff, who let us know the previous screening was over-running and were told a few minutes before we went in that "it wouldn't be long now because the credits had started".
This only made it more infuriating when at around 8pm the film stopped abruptly on a slide



detailing the birth and death dates of Ian Curtis (he dies in the end I'm afraid), the music fizzed out and the house lights came up.

I laughed and then swore, and quite a few others around me did similar things, we'd been totally jolted out of the film's mood.
Nothing happened for a bit, we whinged, and then, like the good English customers we are, we started filing out.

I can only conclude that the Showroom staff now felt a punctual start for the next film was more important than the artistic integrity and enjoyment of the previous one, I don't know that for sure of course because, unsurprisingly, there were no staff around to explain the decision.
Really shoddy I thought. Even the biggest commercial multiplexes run the credits, even BBC1 gives me 30 seconds of them rammed into a tiny box in the corner of the screen.
So I've written and complained, which really isn't like me.
No, really, it isn't.


I've now received a very nice explanation and apology from the Showroom which is both reassuring and slightly interesting if you're a bit geeky (oh come on, you're reading a weblog, you must be).

The abrupt halt was caused by a sync pulse on the print which multiplexes use to automatically raise the house lights apparently. Unfortunately, with the Showroom's system it also has the effect of stopping the projector! Their projectionists usually hunt these sync marks down and remove them when they make up the films but this one got missed. It seems their earlier Control screenings had been digital so this first film print showing was the first they knew of it.
Nice to know it was a mistake rather than a deliberate act and get some background on the problem too, and even nicer to be offered comps with the apology as well.

DOWNDATE DOWNDATE DOWNDATE. We now return you to your previous webloggery.

The film itself was very very good, occasional clumsy biopicitis where you have to put over career developments and historic info rather baldly, but surprisingly funny and genuinely moving. It's also extremely nostalgia inducing, accurately depicting a time and place 25 years back that looks more like 50 years back now (there's even a Williams and Glynn Bank!), furthermore, everyone has terrific record collections, we get to watch the pulsating of a run out groove (a teenage pleasure I'd forgotten) and our old gas fire is even in it too.

In terms of performances, John Cooper Clarke is pleasingly still alive and doing a pretty damned convincing version of himself (His Snap, Crackle and Bop album is an absolute work of art that you can get very cheap nowadays, greatly recommended) and Sam Ryan's Ian Curtis is an impressive piece of work that goes beyond Stars In Their Eyes mimicry (how Granada music TV fell from So It Goes glory), Samantha Morton breaks your heart, I could go on.
You really do feel you're seeing the real band a lot of the time.
There's a nice in-jokey reference to 24 Party People too by the way, when they attempt to tell Curtis that things could be worse and he could be lead singer of The Fall (the role Ryan played in that film).

In terms of sound, there were three sequences in which I wondered whether they were doing something tricksy with the wildtrack noise, making it pulse rhythmically as if foreshadowing the effects in the later hypnosis and suicide scenes, but I don't know if that was just the facilities at the Showroom now.
Anyway, some of the Macclesfield traffic rumble, the background noise at the maternity hospital and at the Labour Exchange when Debbie looks for bar work and of course the grasshopper sounds on the hillside near the start all seemed to have a curious alienating pumping quality to them to my ears. Maybe that was just me, grasshoppers sometimes have that quality anyway if they're in large numbers, as their chirrups go in and out of phase with each other.

The one sad thing is you get a sense from the film of Curtis as a rather immature selfish individual incapable of feeling proper empathy with others, and although you feel for his pain, you end up feeling more for those around him who loved him despite and because of his empty coldness.

The band's flirtation with Nazi imagery is acknowledged but essentially ignored leaving one feeling as uncomfortable as ever with this aspect of punk and post-punk music. Obviously, we've all forgiven Bowie and Siouxsie for playing with the swastika back then (interestingly, we forgive Kula Shaker a lot less speedily for being slightly more intellectual about the symbol's history in the 90s because they were pants basically) and lounge lizard pop dad Bryan Ferry is now excused for his attraction to the aesthetics of fascism, but it all feels like a dirty secret we're not talking about from the 70s and 80s.

How much of it was just seizing onto iconography designed to upset an older generation, how much was based on a failure of understanding (the Second World War played out like Cowboys and Indians* on our screens and in our comics back then- Dad's Army never dealt with the Holocaust), how much of it was genuine neo-Nazism?
I feel sure all three things were going, and I think that's worth admitting. Young people, even very clever young people, can be incredibly stupid, that's why some of them "celebrate the irony" when they go dancing, of course.
In fact young people being stupid is pretty much the Joy Division tragedy. In retrospect, all so obvious, but, back in the day, unimaginable.

*Not that with hindsight you can be particularly comfortable with the morality of those Cowboys and Indians stories either... So it goes.

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