Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten

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Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten

The iconic frontman for the Clash takes centre stage in this documentary from THE FILTH AND THE FURY director Julien Temple. Joe Strummer, one of musi...

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Review of "Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten"

published 20/01/2011 | thedevilinme
Member since : 13/05/2008
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Pro Interesting at times
Cons Pretencious and cliche at times
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"Rock the cliche......Rock the cliche......."

Rock invites pretencious hangers on..

Rock invites pretencious hangers on..

have to say punk passed me by. My only recollections of it was the dance floor at weddings, quickly cleared by young people with a demonic logo on their leather jackets (which I later discovered was the symbol for the band 'Crass') and a likewise scowl on their faces, the heaving moronic mass of zits and metal studs a blur as they pogo`d up and down to their awful tuneless songs, and then clearing off to the bar for the mums and dads to take up where they left off to continue embarrassing themselves to the old disco classics. You can hardly call anything about punk rock musical. It was awful and I suppose that was the point.

Joe Strummer, of course, was their God, the charismatic lead singer of The Clash, a bit of a lyrical legend to many a middle-aged man even today and somewhat ironically named if you consider his remedial guitar playing skills. I'm not one for getting carried away with the lyrics of songs and so I can't confirm if 'Rock the Kasbah' is indeed the Magna Carta of tunes or simply mindless waffle from someone high on coke. I suspect the later. All I now know after watching this film is he sits on the high table of British music. Strummer actually died on December 22nd from a congenital heart defect, probably hastened from this mortal coil by the amount of Class A he consumed in his 50 years on this planet.

...Anyhow, 'Joe Strummer: The future is Unwritten', is a tribute biographical film from documentary maker Julian Temple, taking a mixture of sound-bites from those who knew and worked with the man or others who just plain adored him, mixing it up with classic archive and behind the scenes footage of the band and the man. Everyone from ex girlfriends to Johnny Depp on location in full pirate garb are willing to chip in with an anecdote or two on the music and the effect it had on them, Martin Scorsese, no less ,claiming that one of the Clashes songs inspired him to make Raging Bull. After a while it becomes clear that most of these contributions were rather vacuous, posturing celebs just trying to be cool by saying they love The Clash, Temple using that to give the film more kudos it doesnt need. To keep the continuity going and to put the film in a remembrance context many of the lesser known fans, like music hacks and long since forgotten punk legends, sit around a camp fire at night under the Brooklyn Bridge to reminisce, breaking bread and sharing stories to eulogize about their posthumous hero and the glory days.

Strummer experimented with bands before and after The Clash and the film also acts as a chronology of the man and his music for the uninitiated. Inevitably the usually disgruntled ex band members have their say on Strummer, some good, some bad, jealousy and broken friendships at the heart of the animosity. When the talent is adored more than the rest of the band then egos tend to run wild and the feeble bicker with their superiors.

The early days for Joe were in East London squats, he the predictable art college drop-out, surrounded by his lefty disciples, the first of many rock clichés on show here, the 101s his virgin venture into punk music, this slum area of London the birth place of many a songwriter and performer in the sixties and seventies. Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger lived in the very same streets doing the very same vices and girls the decade before.
Motivated by the Sex Pistols, the early pioneers of Punk, the pure rebellion by 'the kids' fed up of long haired rockers like Zeppelin and Deep Purple ruling was growing, Strummer joining the little known 'Clash' to quickly take punk to the next level, soon taking over as lead singer, injecting more rhythmical guitar riffs and harder more meaningful lyrics. If it was going to be a meaningful uprising against Thatcher and the like then at least make the songs more tuneful and strutting.

As the band got bigger and global they would drift away from their punk ideals and up their own a**, as Strummer put it. They became so huge they defeated the object. They had become the stadium rock band they were rebelling against in the first place. They got so mainstream in the late 80s that the US Airforce were painting 'Rock the Kasbah' on their 500 pound bombs in tribute! Joe put it beautifully on having their cake and eating it. "It was like being on hunger strike but taking an hour off for lunch. It was bullsh*t". Like all bands they had sold out and so the cracks inevitably came, especially over that old chestnut, 'creative differences'. The band wanted the money and the girls but they also wanted to keep the kudos of cool of being antiestablishment. But Strummer knew that was impossible when you regular play to 110,000 in Baseball stadiums. The guys had kids now and were parents, no longer singing about 'crushing the man', the responsibility of families and middle-age ending their rebellion and making them slave to the taxman like their worshipers in the crowds.

As the guys aged and their bellies filled out the inevitable happened, Joe going his own way with the 'Vaskeleros', a folksy mix of Latin musicians, inspired by the time he spent with depression and a pile of pills in his Mexico border town hideout. The film then tracks his demise that's made all the more painful as it's edited in with his absolute highs in the band through those old clips as the young fresh faced punk and the leader of the angry young world he was now cowering from..


There's no doubt they were an important band and Strummer one of music's greats but to me it was more about average music being celebrated by the heard and growing notoriety through rebellion and so not so much quality on show. I suppose you could equate the punk phenomenon not to a rebellion but to the heard mentality, like the growth of indie rock in the 90s when kids started to go to university on mass, the cool music of the time to fit in with a similar pack. It wasn't really about the songs. To prove my point most people listened to heavy metal at university in the 1970s, unthinkable at the same redbrick institutions today.

I'm not a fan of the band in anyway but I do enjoy biopics about modern pop icons and what makes them tick. Where as a good written autobiography will always allow the reader to take away a piece of that person, this type of film will be a more legally sanitized and approved affair that will give you a version of the protagonist. Nothing wrong with that but you always feel the rockumentarian is continuing the legend when he is a fan like Temple clearly is rather than telling a warts and all account. I learnt from this movie is as much as the normal fan already knows.

Its well put together and although some contributions are pretentious and irritating (Yes you Depp), the two hours fly by and you gently come around to the fact that maybe Strummer wasn't just another...well strummer. I did read some of his lyrics soon after watching this and they aren't too bad but I'm still the 'tune is the song' kinda guy, hence liking Van Halen over Pink Floyd.

If you're a Clash fan I'm sure this is sitting on your shelf right now and if it isn't then you will enjoy the rent, even though you know all the content as I said before. It's also a very well made piece of documentary film and if you're not remotely a Clash fan you will be impressed with the quality and clarity. And if you do enjoy this type of thing then I would highly recommend 'Dig', the true story of the rise and fall of two revered American indie cult bands, 'The Brian Jonestown Massacre' and 'The Dandy Warhol's', and their subsequent fallout when one band, The Dandy's, take the corporate dollar and have great success whilst the other, TBJM, because of their Joe Strummer style lead singer, also disappear up his own butt. It does seem to be the same old story with the rock Gods. Maybe that's what makes them legends... scores it 7.7 out of 10.0 (1,059 votes)
RuN-TiMe 123 minutes
5 films for £5 weekly deal at Blockbusters

The contributors in alphabetical order...

Bardot ... Herself (archive footage)
Bono ... Himself
Steve Buscemi ... Himself
Terry Chimes ... Himself
John Cooper Clarke ... Himself
John Cusack ... Himself
Peter Cushing ... Winston Smith (archive footage)
Johnny Depp ... Himself
Matt Dillon ... Himself
Tymon Dogg ... Himself
Joe Ely ... Himself
Dick Evans ... Himself
Flea ... Himself
Alasdair Gillis ... Himself
Ian Gillis ... Himself
Topper Headon ... Himself
Mick Jagger ... Himself (archive footage)
Jim Jarmusch ... Himself
Mick Jones ... Himself
Steve Jones ... Himself
Anthony Kiedis ... Himself
Don Letts ... Himself
Bernie Rhodes ... Himself
David Lee Roth ... Himself (archive footage)
Joe Strummer ... Himself (archive

Summary: A rock cliche

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Comments on this review

  • SirJoseph published 06/10/2015
    Also not a fan haha
  • Coloneljohn published 27/01/2011
    Excellent review. I'm not a fan of his music either but I did enjoy your write up. John
  • proxam published 20/01/2011
    The Clash never did it for me either
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Product Information : Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten

Manufacturer's product description

The iconic frontman for the Clash takes centre stage in this documentary from THE FILTH AND THE FURY director Julien Temple. Joe Strummer, one of music's most original voices, gets the full treatment, as this film explores his life from birth to his death in 2002..

Release Details

DVD Region: DVD, Blu-ray


Producer: Alan Moloney, Amanda Temple, Anna Campeau

Featured: The Clash, Joe Strummer

Editor: Niven Howie, Mark Reynolds, Tobias Zaldua

Cinematographer: Ben Cole

Subject: Joe Strummer


Main Language: English

Technical Information

Special Features: Interactive menu

Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Wide Screen

Sound: Dolby Digital

Professional Reviews

Review: A documentary the rocks. Unmissable (Esquire, 2007-04-26)<br><br>Powerful, emotional, a must-see (Mojo, 2007-04-26)<br><br>Passionate, innovative film-making at its best (The Times, 2007-06-26)<br><br>Moving and imaginative trip through the life of one of rock's most fascinating spirits (Time Out, 2007-04-26)<br><br>Phenomenal, captures the spirit of rock 'n' roll (Uncut, 2007-04-26)<br><br>The best music film ever (XFM, 2007-06-26)<br><br>


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