STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN
As the front man of the Clash from 1977 onwards, Joe Strummer changed people's lives. Four years after his death, his influence reaches out around the world, more strongly now than ever before. Strummer is revealed not just as a legend or musician, but as a true communicator of our times. This documentary draws on both a shared punk history and the close personal friendship which developed over the last years of Joe's life with Julien Temple.
Review by Louise Keller:
A self described punk rock warlord, Joe Strummer was a rebel, an individual who liked to think and convey relevance through his music. This strident documentary tribute from his friend, filmmaker Julien Temple looks at Strummer from his early musical years as the frontman of the 70s and 80s band The Clash. Using the concept of the renowned Strummerville campfires as the pivot for the film, in which former band members, friends, ex girlfriends and admirers sit around a campfire under an illuminated New York skyline, Temple elicits their thoughts and recollections, interspersed by photographs, animated sketches and grainy archival footage. It is fine when we hear from people like Johnny Depp (looking as though he has come straight from Pirates of the Caribbean set) or Bono ('His lyrics were like reading an atlas'), but it is highly frustrating when we don't know who the people are. Superbly edited and comprising an extraordinary selection of footage, this is an often engrossing documentary that recounts the life of an imposing figure in musical history, albeit overlong and at times self-indulgent.
Born in Turkey, the son of an English diplomat and Scottish mother, his early years read like a travel journal as the family moved to Cairo, Mexico City, Bonn and finally to boarding school in England. With the world exploding around him, 1968 was 'a good year to come of age', after being devastated by the suicide of his older brother. I like the integrated footage of the animated Animal Farm, but much of the footage - often extremely poor in quality - is superfluous.
Strummer is not an especially likeable man: he was arrogant, obnoxious and outspoken. Yet he had an extraordinary following, treating audiences as friends as he made punk accessible and delivering lyrics with urgency and the relevance of the politics of the day. 'People can change anything' was his philosophy, yet in his own life, he struggled with all the pitfalls his success brought his way. From an inflated ego to the excess of drugs and overindulgence, Strummer experienced it all. His voice may have been mediocre, but there's no denying the influence and legacy he left behind. Perhaps the fact that Temple was his friend works against the film, as often too much information is flung our way, as if to convince us.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ever since the mid 1970s, Julien Temple has engaged with music on screen, starting with the docos of the Sex Pistols, dozens of rock videos for major bands including the Rolling Stones and the mid-80s musical, Absolute Beginners. A friend of Joe Strummer, Temple attacks this homage with a ferocity equal to Joe's. The result, for my money, is not as absolutely riveting as his beginnings, although Strummer and Clash fans will no doubt disagree. I find it not so much dense as compacted, so that the individual elements - like various voices of interview subjects, music and events - are all squeezed so tightly into the frame and the edit that it's a bit of a blur for the most part.
The final 30 minutes are much clearer, and by then we have drawn a complex picture of Joe Strummer, albeit a jagged one. The title of the film reflects Joe's philosophy that we are all capable of changing our futures - at least as he sensed it in his mature years before his premature death from a heart condition. That's great, and some of the archival footage is interesting, but Temple inserts illustrative footage mixed with the archival, and does so with such effect (and so rapidly) that we are confused about what bit is or isn't really relevant.
Obtuse grabs from films are also used as if to illustrate or comment on the content, but this, too, distracts from the core subject. I think these faults are the result of a) trying too hard to create something different and edgy, a radical methodology to talk about a radical figure, and b) being too close to the material over a long and concentrated time, so that he is all too familiar with every moment. But we aren't.
I have revisited the doco about that other famous group, Metallica, even though I am not a heavy metal fan; I can't say I'll want to revisit this doco, but not because I am not a punk fan.
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STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (M)
CAST: Documentary with Joe Strummer, Bono, Steve Buscemi, Terry Chimes, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Matt Dillon; archive footage: Peter Cushing, Jim Jarmusch and others
PRODUCER: Amanda Temple, Anna Campeau, Alan Moloney
DIRECTOR: Julien Temple
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Cole
EDITOR: Niven Howie, Mark Reynolds, Tobias Zaldua
MUSIC: Ian Neil (music supervisor)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n.a
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 20, 2007