The Clash: Westway to the World

The Clash: Westway to the World (2000) DVD cover

(2000) dir. Don Letts
viewed: 01/17/03

This DVD was loaned to me by a friend at work shortly after Joe Strummer’s death. I had never heard of the film and had a hard time much information on it. I don’t know if the film ever had a proper theatrical run, though I see that it played at our local Artist’s Television Access theater in the Mission, which is why I think that it’s beginning to ring a bell.

Anyway, it was directed by Don Letts, who was a friend and follower of The Clash (as well as a member of Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones’ post-Clash combo) from their earliest days. Most of the older live footage, if not all of it, was shot by Letts. A good portion of this archival material has a rough charm at best and muddy almost “bootleg” quality, a reasonable portion of which was gleaned from another Letts’ Clash documentary (included on the DVD) titled The Clash on Broadway, a film shot during a 16-day run of shows in New York City in 1981. As a document, it’s quite exciting to see the energy of the band playing in their heyday, though the quality of the sound compromises that power considerably.

The latter day interviews with the individual band members are interwoven roughly (almost clunkily), and are used to narrate the story from first-hand recollections. Strummer, clearly the intellectual of the group, offers the most profound insights and seems the strongest voice of both the group and the narrative.

I found myself comparing this film to Julien Temple’s brilliant documentary about the Sex Pistols, The Filth and the Fury, which was also released in 2000. Temple similarly had known the band in their day and had maintained a friendship with the band members, which allowed him to evoke excellent interviews from them. Temple’s film had a broader vision and a surer hand directing and editing, and as a result was an excellent film, interesting both socially and historically.

The Clash: Westway to the World is not on par with Temple’s film, though still an interesting comparison piece. A fan, or someone particularly interested in The Clash, would probably get more out of it than not. So, I enjoyed it, despite not being overly impressed with the production.

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