How did you first find out about Joy Division?
Initially in ‘79 I heard Unknown Pleasures and I moved to England from Holland because of that. I did some photo shoots with the band that over the years have become very well known, synonymous with the music even. So there was an attachment to me and Joy Division and therefore Ian Curtis. More recently I had been looking for scripts to make a film, though I never felt comfortable when I read the scripts. But when this story came up I felt I could be the right person to do this because of the emotional connection.
So you moved from Holland to England just for the band. What was their allure?
Well, I suppose it’s a testament to how naive I was to move countries just ‘cos I liked some music. It might also mean that in the ‘70s music meant more to people. I think they captured a zeitgeist. And even though I couldn’t quite understand him because my English was not that good, I could tell there was something important to what he was saying. The music was exciting. You could feel the despair, the grittiness, you could see it in their album sleeve. I already had thoughts to leave Holland but when their music came around I just thought “I’ll leave now.”
Your background is in photography and music videos. Do you think that helped?
In a way, I guess everything leads to something. All your experience helps. In terms of telling a story it wasn’t very new to me but working with actors, that was something new to me and quite daunting. For a first-time director it can be intimidating.
Why did you shoot it in black and white?
Well, the whole collective memory of Joy Division is in black and white. They presented themselves in black and white through the album sleeves. If you look back you can’t find one picture of them in colour – they just don’t exist, so I didn’t think it was appropriate in that sense. Also, coming from Holland to England, travelling up north, it was so bleak, the poverty, it felt like a Third World country.
You present Ian as much less of a substance abuser than I thought he was…
Well, I’m very tired of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll clichés so I concentrated on things that really mattered – that had a profound effect on his life. The fact that he drank was something he shouldn’t have been doing with his epilepsy drugs. So he had these incredibly severe mood swings. Very early on he steals from old people’s medicine cabinets to see what he can get a kick out of. It shows he had an experimental side, but for the rest I think it’s more the mindset that he’s working with. The drug use was more of an ‘80s thing, with New Order. That was proper substance abuse.
It also a surprisingly romantic film – the problem being that Ian truly loves both his wife Debbie and his mistress Annick…
He’s a man of paradox. He loves Annick but he doesn’t want to leave Debbie because he doesn’t want to disappoint. That’s odd because he’s someone that always wanted such control. If you don’t want to disappoint people then that’s conflicting. The title Control comes from that. Of course it also makes reference to the song “She’s Lost Control”. But the fact that he was a control freak but had no control over his personal life was very interesting I think.
And the title “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was just too obvious?
Yeah. It’s hard because that song is about a theme of the film, so it could be in any part of the film.