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Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

By Adam Thomas

Wednesday May 21, 2008

Having set the record straight on The Sex Pistols with his brilliant documentary The Filth and The Fury, after the Malcom McLaren manipulated debacle that was The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, it only makes sense that the world’s premier British Punk Rock historian,Julien Temple, would set his sights on the other legendary punk band of the time, The Clash. While there have been many little documentaries on punk rock and The Clash – including their own quasi-cinemaverité styled rockumentary Rude Boy, which featured the band on their rise to fame and their roadie getting wasted and beat up and losing his job – what sets Temple’s latest film apart from everything else is his ability to structure and source his material and the unique access he has and the perspective he is able to sculpt out of history.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is both a biography on Clash front man Strummer and, in a larger context, an exciting and fascinating look at London in the mid to late 1970s. But the film is decidedly focused on Strummer as the subject, incorporating interviews with Strummer’s old friends (people he would soon abandon and alienate when he changed his name from Woody to Joe Strummer, at the same time as he moved from bohemian idealist to punk ideologue) and rare and unseen footage of his early band The 101ers and of early Clash recording sessions. All the while, Strummer narrates the film through interviews recorded with the director during the last few years of the musician’s life. Combining music and rare footage, Temple manages to craft a revealing and intimately complex perspective on the man whose lyrics and music served as a political awakening for a generation already detached from the world of conventional politics. He wrote about the things he saw happening around him, and his music was embraced and lives on in those who to this day see themselves and their thoughts reflected in his songs.

Playing at Pacific Cinematheque