Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

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Posted November 5, 2007 in Film

Having made three documentaries on the Sex Pistols, Brit filmmaker and music video director Julien Temple turns his attention to The Clash frontman Joe Strummer, the self-described “punk rock warlord” whose songs gave society the finger, but then extended a hand to help it pull free from apathy. The rambunctious son of a diplomat, Strummer grew up in Turkey and Cairo (thus earning the right to rock casbahs, camels, and sharifs) before becoming a boarding school bully, art school dropout, and top 40 capitalist gadfly. The irony in being an anti-consumerist rock star who sells out stadiums wasn’t lost on the band and the largely drug and woman-induced tension soon got so fractious Strummer sent them their new lyrics by mail. From his mounds of great footage, Temple cuts between an early underground show and a coliseum blowout to show how success sapped their anger and passion. The film is manic and witty, layering Harry Belafonte over clips of Animal Farm and placing all of its interview subjects—which includes Strummer’s surviving bandmates, and other oddities such as Bono, John Cusack, Courtney Love, and Martin Scorsese claiming The Clash was the tonal inspiration for Raging Bull—in front of burning trashcans for street cred. Disorientingly, Temple gives us their reactions to Strummer’s significant milestones without laying out exactly what they were; we’re stumbling a step behind the story like drunks. As the principled but reckless rock star watched himself turn into a symbol of everything he loathed, The Clash’s implosion was imminent. The big unanswerable question is: Do we wish Strummer would have listened to David Lee Roth’s advice that “you don’t have to take life so seriously, honey”? (Amy Nicholson)


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