Auteur of the Week – Anton Corbijn
I first discovered Anton Corbijn, or at least put a name to his work, in the summer of 2005 when The Killers released their video for All The Things I’ve Done. It was directed by Corbijn and was most definitely an homage to Russ Meyers’ cult classic Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill. I decided I had to watch everything he’d ever done, which is an impressive amount of really fantastic music videos starting as early as late 80s. I also discovered that he was the photographer responsible for some of the most iconic rock photographs of the last 35 years. About two years later I discovered the band Joy Division, a band that has subsequently become my all time favorite band. Corbijn is responsible for some of the most haunting photographs taken of that short-lived post-punk band, so it was a natural choice, I think, to have Corbijn helm the 2007 biopic of Joy Division’s ill-fated lead singer Ian Curtis. I actually was working for The Daily Californian at the time and reviewed the film at that time, which you can read here. Corbijn has directed two extremely solid films in the last three years and I absolutely cannot wait for him to make another film.
Corbijn was born in Strijen, Netherlands. He started working as a music photographer when he saw the Dutch musician Herman Brood playing at a cafe in Groningen, in the Netherlands around 1975. Brood’s fame rose quickly due to of the photographs taken by Corbijn, his own exposure as a rock photographer increased as well. Corbijn remained the ‘home-photographer’ of Herman Brood until Brood’s death in 2001. Corbijn’s first music video was for the song Hockey by Palais Schaumburg in 1983. Since then he has directed nearly 80 music videos for over 30 artists including U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Nirvana and Coldplay. He has also published thirteen books of his photography.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite videos directed by Corbijn before talking about his work in feature films. Featured above are: Atmosphere by Joy Division (done in 1988, long after the band had broken up after Ian Curtis’ suicide), Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode (1990), One by U2 (1992), Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana (1993), All These Things I’ve Done by The Killers (2005), Talk by Coldplay (2005) and Viva La Vida by Coldplay (2008). If you get a chance I high recommend checking these videos out on YouTube, or pretty much any of Corbijn’s music videos. You can really see how he got to where he is as a director by looking at these videos, as well as looking at his beautiful photography.
Apparently Corbijn had been a fan of Joy Division since the band’s early days and after moving to England, he met the band and shot several pictures for the music magazine NME, which boosted his career as a photographer. He has said that the film overlapped with his own life in some ways. “I had moved to England to be close to that music at the time, and I was very into Joy Division. I worked with them, took pictures of them that became synonymous with their music, and I was forever linked. Then eight years after [Ian Curtis’] death, I did the video for “Atmosphere.” So in other people’s eyes I was always connected with them.” Corbijn paid half of the €4.5 million budget out of his own pocket and the film was shot on colour stock and printed to black and white to “reflect the atmosphere of Joy Division and the mood of the era”. The film made over $8 mil worldwide and was a huge critical success. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2007, out of competition for the Palme d’Or, where it won several awards including the Director’s Fortnight, the CICAE Art & Essai prize for best film, the Regards Jeunes Prize for best first/second directed feature film, and the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film in the sidebar. The film also won five British Independent Film Awards including Best Film, Best Director , Most Promising Newcomer Sam Riley and Best Supporting Actor Tony Kebbell.The Evening Standard British Film Awards named Best Film of 2007 and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh won the Carl Foreman award for outstanding achievement in his first feature film at the BAFTAs. I saw the film in theaters three times – the first at a press screening to review it, as I mentioned above, the second with some friends the night it opened in theaters and the third time a few weeks later with another friend who hadn’t had time to see it earlier. Each time I saw it I found something I hadn’t seen before and each time I left the theater profoundly changed. It wasn’t just because it was a film about my favorite band; it was also a masterpiece on every level. My friend that went with me the third time wasn’t a Joy Division fan at all, but he was a fan of Corbijn’s work and after the film ended he couldn’t speak for a good five minutes. He was affected deeply by this film about someone he had previously known nothing about. That helped me realized that my reactions, though slightly biased, were 100% justified.
This was Sam Riley’s first lead role and he took it on with such gusto. He really carries the film from start to finish with such perfect finesse. He’s kind of tall and looming and yet understated and quite throughout the whole film, but yet somehow dominates every scene he’s in. In the one scene where he finally breaks his silent demeanor he explodes into violence like an animal. From what I’ve read about Ian Curtis, that is a pretty accurate account of how he actually was. A lot of Riley’s performance is in his eyes, and I for one love when an actor can say more with his face than with dialogue.
I really love Samantha Morton. She is one of my favorite actresses working in Hollywood today. I really thought she would pull off a Best Supporting Actress nod for her turn as Deborah Curtis in this film (at the time she was already a two-time nominee), sadly the film managed to stay completely under the Academy’s radar and didn’t receive a single nomination.
I thought for a film based on a book written by Deborah, it was relatively kind to the part of Curtis’ life that involved his affair with journalist Annik Honoré, played by Alexandra Maria Lara. It’s actually rather tender and shows how their love affair grew so organically. You still feel horrible for Deborah and her daughter Natalie, but at the same time you can see how Curtis wound up where he did in life. The on-screen chemistry between Lara and Riley is electric, and is off-screen apparently as well, the two started dating on the set and got married recently.
Lastly, I really loved Toby Kebbell’s performance as manager Rob Gretton. He adds some really great humor to film at times. He also delivers one of my favorite lines from the film, “I am a believer in Joy Division! Fucking hallelujah!” Indeed.
Corbijn’s second feature film, The American, which was released on September 1st 2010, is an adaptation of the 1990 novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. So far the film has received mixed-to-positive reviews and landed at the #1 spot in theaters in America over the Labour Day weekend. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine only gave the film two and a half stars, whereas Roger Ebert gave the film four stars (he only gave Control three and a half stars). I saw the film last Thursday and I’m going to have to side with Ebert on this one. I thought the film was perhaps a little miss marketed, as the trailers make it look more like a straight-forward spy thriller. It is not. It is more of a psychological character study. Really, it reminded me of Bullitt, which like this film transcended the genre it appeared to be, instead focusing on the character rather than the overarching plot.
I really loved George Clooney in this film. Like I said earlier, I love an actor who can do so much with his face that he doesn’t need dialogue. Clooney is the master of this (see the last five minutes of Michael Clayton if you want further proof). This is maybe the must subtle performance from Clooney I’ve ever seen. I’d like to think he’d get some attention come awards time later this year, but I’m afraid the film was released too early and didn’t make a big enough splash to keep up the moment it needs.
I enjoyed Violante Placido as Clooney’s love interest Clara. She has very natural screen-presence and an overall beautiful aura. Although this film marks her first big American film, the 34 year-old Italian actress has made several films since her debut in 1993. I hope we see more of her in the future.
Veteran Italian actor Paolo Bonacelli is superb as Clooney’s one friend and confident throughout the film. I liked how pretty much the entire supporting cast was played by actual European actors. In fact, Clooney is just about the only American involved in almost any aspect of the film. I think that’s what made the film feel so refreshingly different from most films coming out of Hollywood today. It felt very European and I loved every minute of it.
Lastly I wanted to talk about Martin Ruhe’s breathtakingly beautiful cinematography. I really thought Ruhe would get a nomination for his lush work on Control, but if his cinematography on this film gets ignored as well it will be a damn shame. I haven’t seen a single film this year that was filmed as beautifully as this film and I think it is going to take one hell of a cinematographer to trump what Ruhe achieved on this film.
If you’re interested in buying any of Corbijn’s work you can do so here.