Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Julien Temple
viewed: 07/20/08

Director Julien Temple already made one excellent documentary about the 1970’s English punk scene, The Filth and the Fury (2000), a revisioning and revisiting of the Sex Pistols which really contextualized their songs in the culture of Britain at the time.   Eight years later, he approaches the period again, this time in a film in tribute to Joe Strummer, the leader of the Clash, perhaps still worth considering as “the only band that matters.”

Temple’s career has been pretty much married to music, starting with early work with the Pistols in their day, then music videos, movies with David Bowie, and on and on.  I’ve read that his documentary, Glastonbury (2006) is also good.  He knows the musicians and his interviewees seem to be fairly loose and comfortable, which works for these documentaries, these somewhat oral hisotries of the punk scene.

Temple seats most of his interviewees around campfires, reminiscing while flames flicker on their faces, an interesting aesthetic, but also a tribute to Strummer’s appreciation for campfires and the culture of sharing around them.  Temple also interweaves snippets of a radio show that Strummer compiled, playing music from his diverse fields of taste and influence, which is part of Strummer’s main “voice” in the film.

The movie begins with radio announcements of Strummer’s untimely death at age 50 from a congenital heart defect that he’d never known about.  And from there it goes back to his birth, to the family of a diplomat, and his diverse youth spent in several different countries, surrounded by different cultures and languages.  All this comes to influence the man who would be the leader of one of the most diverse and political of punk bands.  His years in boarding school and his middle class background put him in an odd place since he clearly identified with the working class and oppressed people arond the world.

I’ve seen a couple of documentaries about the Clash and quite a few about the music scene in general.  Don Letts’ The Clash: Westway to the World (2000) had the benefit of interviews with Strummer in his later years, the strongest part of a fairly weak film.  And most recently, I had watched Rude Boy (1980), a pseudodocumentary made during the Clash’s hedey which benefitted from lots of live footage of the band while they were still up and coming.

But Julien Temple has certainly added to his work in the documenting of the music scene.  Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is a well-crafted, interesting film about one of the most intellectual and important leaders of the UK punk scene and man who made a difference.

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