MICHAEL BODEY DVD LETTERBOX
THE last of last year’s best films appear on DVD this month and in April. March has been shaping as a bountiful month for quality Hollywood product.
The merits of Michael Clayton , Into the Wild , Rescue Dawn and Eastern Promises are obvious enough.
If their respective directors Tony Gilroy ( and his lead, George Clooney), Sean Penn, Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg don’t excite any interest, well, Australian comic Col Elliott has a new DVD out on Monday.
The four films all have their assets. Three of them earned several Academy Award nominations and Tilda Swinton surprised many by winning the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Michael Clayton .
Another of last year’s quality films, Control , was ignored by the academy but picked up plenty of other awards following its premiere at Cannes in May.
Music biopics have lately become something of a Hollywood cliche. You know the drill: the musician comes from a dysfunctional family, beats the odds to find success, gets married, over- indulges and plummets before renewal or tragic death. We’ve seen it all before and the genre was ripe for parody in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Control is a little different, though, and a far more beautiful film than might have been expected, given the subject matter, the short life of Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis. Although Control is Anton Corbijn’s debut feature, local distributor Madman has seen fit to include the new DVD in its Directors Suite sub- label. This may be a marketing move, but it’s also a sign of the film’s quality. Corbijn is a rock photographer and music video director who collaborated with Joy Division, the Manchester band that became a seminal influence in British pop’s move from late 1970s punk to ’ 80s electronic music and dance ( post- Curtis, the band became New Order).
The Dutch photographer moved on and made his mark capturing U2, Metallica and Depeche Mode on film.
His transition to feature films should have scared us, though, because music video directors generally tend to produce flashy but vacuous films.
The names Michael Bay, Mark Pellington and Antoine Fuqua come to mind, although, to be fair, they have had their share of competent works: Bay’s Transformers and Fuqua’s Training Day, for instance. And I can’t wait to see Pellington’s work on the concert film U2 3D, which is due for a cinema release here soon. Michel Gondry ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) and Spike Jonze ( Being John Malkovich ) might be considered the exceptions that prove the rule, if only their films weren’t so whimsical and undisciplined.
The one word that should scare you off any film directed by a music video auteur is Pitof. Yes, just Pitof. That’s the name of the Frenchman who directed Catwoman.
Which is to say, Corbijn has distinguished himself from many music video makers with his accomplished first film. Corbijn’s work with Joy Division appears to have given him insight and a soft touch, yet his biopic doesn’t veer into hagiography. The director clearly has a keen eye and his black- andwhite cinematography is wonderfully lush, even in its dank English setting ( although the film was shot in colour and transferred to black and white).
While music directors tend to get the look right in their feature films, narrative ( based in this case on a memoir by Curtis’s wife, Deborah) and casting tend to be something else altogether. Corbijn excelled in both.
Control may not have a Clooney or Cronenberg on its DVD sleeve to grab your attention, but it’s certainly worth watching.
* * * DISC WATCH: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ( Warner Bros, MA15+, $ 29.99) Aussie director Andrew Dominik’s first film since Chopper ( yes, it has been that long) features Brad Pitt and a cracker of a performance from Casey Affleck. But can you stay the distance?
bodeym@ theaustralian. com. au
Debut feature: Control director Anton Corbijn