Rock & Roll & Cannes '07
By the numbers: Day three of the 60th Cannes Film Festival, 8:00 a.m., after four-and-a-half hours' sleep, I'm feeling two cans shy of a sixer for having chosen not only to be conscious right now, but watching, of all things, U23D, a comin' at ya concert movie that, cranked to 11, is loud enough to wake the dead—and somehow enough to keep the tired critic from nodding off. I wouldn't have even considered giving Bono the chance to shout "Vertigo!" in my ear—and to stick his mic stand in my face—except that "Until the End of the World" had mysteriously issued forth from the nether regions of my iPod on the plane ride over, it sounded great, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. I needed to reckon with the boys from Dublin.
Digitally projected (and shot in a new high-tech, whoa-inducing process), U23D looks—forgive the colloquialism—really cool: clean, vivid, and with none of that eyestraining jitter from the '80s (let alone the '50s). As a way of combating the threat of home theater, which exhibitors would likely say is more of an assault at this point, digital 3D probably does represent the future of cinema, for better and worse. (Tech gods James Cameron and George Lucas will surely help see to that.)
As for U2, they were wise not to exploit their third dimension unduly: Except when Bono extends his hand while singing "Wipe your tears away" (during "Sunday Bloody Sunday"), making me wish he'd go a step further and shave my stubbly face during the screening (who besides the stars has time for grooming here?), the effects are subtle. What you notice is how even, say, spot-lit stage fog seems to exist on its own spatial plane, midway between the sea of pumping fists in the foreground and Larry Mullen Jr.'s awesome drum kit in the back. Martin Scorsese, in Cannes shopping his new 2D Stones doc for distribution, might see this and wish he had sprung for the extra D. For my money (and I got in for free!), U23D isn't like being in the front row—it's actually better, or at least until they decide to add Odorama. (Oh, and a note to U2 disciples: Don't bother e-mailing to ask for my special Bonovision glasses. Heeding Leo DiCaprio's Cannes call for earth-friendliness at the 11th hour, I put 'em in the recycling bin.)
So far there's only one other rock film at Cannes; alas, it's not Todd Haynes's purportedly unreleasable (i.e., brilliant) Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, which is, like I said, not here. Instead it's the Ian Curtis biopic Control by first-time director Anton Corbijn, who spent 20-some years photographing U2 and therefore had more than enough clout and connections to secure clearance rights to the late Curtis's post-punk dirges for Joy Division. This, plus the close participation of Curtis's widow Debbie (and shimmering black and white widescreen cinematography), is what chiefly distinguishes Control from the Kurt Cobain movie Last Days: It's more conventional, in other words. Here, clinically depressed and profoundly isolated boy shoe-gazes, listens to Bowie in his bedroom, starts a band, falls in love, gets married, falls in love again (with a fan), waffles between women, pays dearly in emotional terms, writes and performs some amazing songs (e.g., "Love Will Tear Us Apart"), burns out, and fades away. The tortured-artist story was a terrible cliché even back when Curtis was living it—which, of course, is part of the tragedy.
Indelibly acted, particularly by relative newcomer Sam Riley as the ghost-like Curtis, Control can't begin to match Last Days for punk-style biographical opacity. But, careful not to diagnose an unknowable condition, Corbijn suggests that it wasn't necessarily Curtis's failure to take his meds that put him over the edge—that maybe it was the meds themselves.
Speaking of sickos and their suppliers: Coming soon to a computer screen near you—Michael Moore and me!