In the 1970s, the English punk band, The Clash, was dubbed “The Only Band That Matters.” 30 years later, that title continues to ring true due in part to Joe Strummer’s compassion and political awareness as a lyricist and front man.
“Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten” is a film that eclipses traditional rock documentaries to paint an endearing portrait of a musician who showed the world the power of three-chord songs and ideas of brotherhood.
Although The Clash was arguably the most noteworthy band of Joe Strummer’s musical career, the film focuses on more than just that. The documentary follows Joe Strummer from his life at an English boarding school to living in a squat to playing in front of thousands of people. After playing in The Clash, viewers are shown how Joe Strummer dabbled in movies and formed another band, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, before his death in 2002.
The visionary behind the film is director Julien Temple. Temple employs visuals similar to those used in his previous documentary about the ’70s punk band The Sex Pistols, “The Sex Pistols: The Filth and The Fury.” Temple strings together photographs, clips of home movies, concerts, and band rehearsals and places them alongside images of oppressive police forces and Orwellian nightmares to complement Strummer’s hatred of authority.
However, not to use these methods as a crutch, Temple expands his palette by utilizing narrative spoken by unidentified friends circled around a campfire. Pop culture enthusiasts will be able to spot actors John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and Johnny Depp amongst the group. Joe Strummer himself can be heard telling his own story through clips from interviews.
This broad selection of accounts helps to create a multidimensional representation of Joe Strummer’s character. Absent is the infallible rock star god and in its place is a person impacted by love, regrets, vices, and bouts of depression.
Running at two hours, the film tries to do the impossible of explaining everything about Strummer. The second half of the film, which chronicles his life after The Clash, is slow compared to the first half of the film, which focuses on his adventurous youth. Casual fans may get bored, but fervent Clash admirers can expect a thorough lesson in counterculture rebellion from one of rock’s most prominent figures.
3 out of 4 stars