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 02/10/2011 | rosebud2001
Member since : 04/05/2009
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Off to Vegas for some sunshine...back soon :-)
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Pro Revealing, watchable, honest
Cons Some strange use of old archive film not related to the subject, Bono
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"From the Westway to the World - and Beyond"

Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten cover

Joe Strummer - The Future Is Unwritten cover

I met Joe Strummer once. It was in 1989 and he was signing copies of his solo album Earthquake Weather in a record shop in Glasgow. I wasn't a huge Clash fan but my sister's boyfriend at the time was. I was the only person he knew able to take time out at lunchtime to attend so I turned up, a rather boring looking young girl who unlike many others in the queue didn't feel the need to fawn over Strummer and tell him how brilliant he was. Instead I merely brought the album over and asked him to dedicate it to my sister's boyfriend. Strummer duly obliged, and thanked me with a quizzical look before we bade each other farewell.

I didn't think at the time that I had been in the presence of a genius. I had liked some of the music the Clash produced in the 70s and early 80s but by 1989 Strummer seemed a bit of a has been to a young person like me and it wasn't until I moved to London the following year that I became familiar with the sights, sounds and places which had inspired the Clash, setting up home in London W10 which was their original stomping ground.

My late husband, who was west London born and bred, loved the Clash and it was through him that I began to appreciate what they did and what they achieved, and I began to understand why my sister's boyfriend - by now an ex boyfriend - had been so gutted at missing the opportunity to meet Strummer.

The Man

Joe Strummer was born John Mellor in 1952, in Ankara, Turkey. His father was a career diplomat and unlike so many punk rockers, Strummer's upbringing involved private schooling and a comfortable, middle class lifestyle.

Where Strummer veered from the conformity expected of him was in his disdain for authority and he didn't excel at school. Taking the route of so many future rock stars of the time, Strummer ended up at art school where his desire to become a musician took hold.

Strummer wound up in London in the early 1970s, living in west London squats and formed a band called the 101'ers who played rockabilly music. The band evolved over time but at some point in 1976 they found themselves on the same bill as the Sex Pistols and Strummer began to feel a pull towards punk. Following a meeting with Mick Jones and the music mogul Bernie Rhodes, Strummer left the 101'ers and joined a new punk band which would become the Clash.

Unlike so many of the punk bands which crashed and burned, the Clash grew bigger and bigger, eventually breaking America with accessible rock music which sold by the truckload. The band split in 1983 and Strummer recorded soundtrack material, acted in a few films, released the aforementioned solo album and dabbled in radio shows before forming a new band called the Mescalinos in 1999. He died suddenly of a heart condition in 2002 at the age of just 50.

The Film

The Future is Unwritten is an exhaustive work and the director Julien Temple - who was a close friend of Strummer's - has produced a documentary which doesn't flatter his subject and gets under his skin.

There's a lot of archive footage used here but the main course of the narrative is Strummer's voice, with Temple using voice interviews with Strummer to enable him to tell his story, intertwined with reminisces from people who knew him and worked with him.

The archive footage includes old home movies of a young Strummer larking about with his brother and some great old photographs, some of which reveal a man who seems to have been inspired by Gilbert O'Sullivan's hair in the early 1970s.

Temple also uses montage sequences from the original film version of Animal Farm, the original BBC adaptation of 1984 and If... to help convey how Strummer felt about life at boarding school and the general oppression Strummer felt compelled to fight against in life.

Strummer liked nothing more than sitting around a campfire with his friends, playing music, debating and generally putting the world to rights. Temple has paid tribute to his friend by conducting the interviews he has with many participants - amongst them Bono, Mick Jones, Johnny Depp, Bobby Gillespie and John Cooper Clark - around campfires.

I was confused by the campfire settings when the documentary began but I was so engrossed in Strummer's story that by the time Strummer's love of such settings was mentioned I had forgotten my confusion.

What you learn of Strummer during the course of the two hour duration of The Future is Unwritten is he was someone who firmly believed in standing up for the underdog and someone who passionately cared about his fans. There's footage of the band in their dressing room prior to a concert showing a group of fans coming in through the dressing room window and instead of being shooed away by security they are given a warm welcome by the band.

Strummer of course was known for his strong political beliefs and as someone who recalls reading about the Clash performing at Rock Against Racism gigs in the 70s I was genuinely surprised to learn that his older brother had become a Nazi before killing himself in 1970. Friends of Strummer's briefly say that he never talked about it but you do have to wonder how this loss affected him and if it had any bearing on how he himself viewed the world. Temple doesn't try to ask questions about how two brothers had such differing ways of viewing the world either.

The film doesn't portray Strummer as a paragon of virtue however. For every act of largesse to people who are down on their luck or mentions of how good a host he was, there are stories of a man who blanked old friends once he joined the Clash on the spurious grounds they were hippies, of a man who slept with the drummer's girlfriend on tour and a man who for all the punk rock screams of never becoming a rock n roll cliché ended up doing arena tours in America and becoming part of that clichéd scene himself.

Temple uses a very brief clip of David Lee Roth in the 1980s expressing his desire that the Clash "lighten up" a bit to perhaps convey how earnest and over righteous Strummer could be, but of course punk went straight over David Lee Roth's beautifully coiffed head and the poetry and passion in Strummer's lyrics must also have been beyond him.

The interviews with Bono are irritating, and actually become almost vomit inducing when he recalls the political nature of punk and how it changed lives looking like the self-satisfied, vainglorious and stereotypical rock star he has become. Bono never worked with Strummer and it's unclear if they ever actually were friends so his contribution strikes me as unnecessary and he seems to represent the very type of rock star today that Strummer sneered at when he first joined the Clash.

Strummer, unlike Lee Roth and to a lesser extent Bono did continue to evolve and explore new sounds in his music. Not for him cover version of Just a Gigolo either. It's easy to say he was quick to jump on a bandwagon - and certainly his move from hippy to rockabilly to punk within the space of a few years could be viewed this way - but the film shows how much he loved music and how open his mind was to new sounds. He embraced Glastonbury long before it became the behemoth it is today. He championed techno music in the late 1980s when raves were being raided by the police and played world music to the world on a radio show he did for BBC World.

The only major omission is an interview with Bernie Rhodes, the man who helped form and steer the Clash towards stardom. For all he is derided by some during the course of the film, to hear his own thoughts and memories would have been the icing on the cake for me.

Extras

Temple must have shot a lot of footage for his so-called "campfire interviews" and on top of the 2 hour documentary there's another 100 minutes of interviews with participants which didn't make the final cut.

I have to say I found Mick Jones' reminisces to be particularly touching, talking to a camera as the sounds from the Westway flyover which inspired the band so much in their youth can be heard in the background.

Jones isn't the most articulate interviewee but his memories of following Mott the Hoople as a teenager and how that band viewed their fans is fascinating. It's quite clear that this had a lot of bearing on how the Clash interacted with their fans in the early days of their career.

Finally

What made the Clash stand out from all the other punk bands was the fact they were musicians and while Strummer was never a brilliant guitarist - his stage name was in fact a jokey reference to how he played guitar - he was part of a band who genuinely could play and could write songs which for those who were there anyway, now define an era. I cannot listen to "London Calling" for instance without remembering the state of the nation when it was released at the end of 1979.

Temple has conveyed the fact Strummer wasn't a typical punk rocker and the Clash weren't a typical punk band brilliantly here and the documentary stands as a wonderful tribute to his friend.

Even if, like me, you are not a huge fan of the Clash, this film is able to capture your attention and tell the story of a man who despite not fitting the description of the archetypal punk rocker still represents a genre more than most and was ultimately a hugely influential musician and left a priceless legacy behind.

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Comments on this review

  • jonathanb published 17/10/2011
    I was never a huge Clash fan either but this still sounds interesting, despite the input from the increasingly sanctimonious and irritating Bono.
  • Saintly31 published 07/10/2011
    a great and very interesting review
  • catsholiday published 06/10/2011
    I'd like to see the dvd as I always love documentaries about musicians - they are a great way to understand modern history as well as the music and what made them choose their style etc.
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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

Studio(s): 4DVD; SPIRIT ENTERTAINMENT; TECHNICOLOR DISTRIBUTION SERVICES, VERTIGO FILMS

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

Languages

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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