In 1976 a young British filmmaker named Julien Temple was capturing the early performances of a young British musician named Joe Strummer. Then a band named The Sex Pistols hit the scene and blew it to pieces. Julien Temple turned his attention from Strummer to the Sex Pistols. And Strummer turned away from his band to follow the Sex Pistols too, forming a new band that shucked the lingering hippie ethic and embraced the angry socio-political theater of punk.
Turns out that new band, The Clash, were pretty good themselves. Long after the shock waves of the Sex Pistols faded, the Clash had evolved into the Most Important Band In the World. Now 30 years later, Julien Temple takes a look back at things left behind in the new documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. One of the things left behind is Strummer himself, who died unexpectedly of heart failure in 2002 at the age of 50. Templeís film works fine as a slice of history, administered with the frenetic visual shorthand of a music video director. It works even better as a love letter to Joe Strummer.
Weíve gotten used to the rise and fall story of the rock musician, thanks to MTVís formulaic but irresistible Behind the Music series, and from Templeís two guilty pleasures on the Sex Pistols. But while drugs and egos took their toll on the Clash and Strummer would spend years wandering the wilderness before his untimely death, the story of Joe Strummer isnít really a roller coaster ride as much as a pilgrimage. The well-traveled son of diplomats, young Joe was a bad student and natural born rebel leader. Like many unemployable Brits, his only refuge was Art School, and the most fun to be had there was to be in a band. But by the time he joined The Clash, Strummer already had a few years under his belt as a wandering non-conformist: curious, questioning and keen to experiment. He had to work at the musical aptitude part. Temple also lets us know that Strummer was deeply ambitious, and the contradiction within a non-conformist yearning for success is as close as the film gets to conflict.
Temple gathered many people who knew Joe Strummer from all walks of his life, and most of their recollections are filmed around campfires. Along with his eclectic radio show on BBC World Service, the campfire had become Strummerís forum in later life. He arranged for people to gather around campfires wherever he traveled, telling Temple that the campfire was a better idea than any of the music he had ever made. Strummer was also a father of two daughters by this point, his hair a bit thinner, his face a bit thicker, but no less curious or political. And only then does he emerge from the wilderness to make some of the best music of his life with a new band, The Mescaleros.
And so it is that in the last fifteen minutes of Julien Templeís perfectly entertaining film, it also becomes one of yearís most uplifting. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is hopefully playing at a theater near you.
© 2007 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 11/7/07
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
Ireland/U.K. - 2007