Punk’s point

Julien Tem­ple made a name for him­self over 25 years ago with a trail­blaz­ing doc­u­men­tary on The Sex Pis­tols. Now he’s mak­ing a name all over again with an ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary on the Pis­tols’ great ri­val, Joe Strum­mer of The Clash. Don­ald Clarke es­corts t

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

FOL­LOW­ING a pub­lic screen­ing of Joe Strum­mer: The Fu­ture Is Un­writ­ten, Julien Tem­ple’s ex­cel­lent new doc­u­men­tary on one of the found­ing fa­thers of punk, I es­cort the di­rec­tor on­stage for a chat about the film and re­lated is­sues. We touch upon his ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing with The Sex Pis­tols on The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle. We muse upon the last­ing im­pact of punk.

“Punk changed ev­ery­thing and noth­ing,” Tem­ple says. “It ended the un­fin­ished work of the Six­ties. It put the 1960s out of its mis­ery. We sud­denly re­alised you didn’t have to wait un­til you’re 60 to make a film. You can just stand up and shout what you be­lieve in.”

Through­out the con­ver­sa­tion, Tem­ple, now 53, re­mains coolly po­lite, but, as the min­utes pass, a cer­tain flinti­ness creeps into his re­sponses. Even­tu­ally, elect­ing to dis­pense with me al­to­gether, he turns his at­ten­tion to the au­di­ence: “Let’s have some sen­si­ble ques­tions.”

Be care­ful what you wish for. The first per­son to grab the mi­cro­phone launches into a bit­ter rant de­tail­ing his dis­dain for Strum­mer’s mu­sic and his be­lief that the late Clash front­man was “a drug ad­dict” and “80 per cent id­iot”. Tem­ple, who knew Strum­mer for over a quar­ter of a cen­tury, re­mains im­pas­sive.

“Oh that’s a very good ques­tion,” he even­tu­ally says. “Yes. That’s a very good ques­tion in­deed. Well done. I to­tally agree with that.”

That com­bi­na­tion of pa­tri­cian dis­dain and with­er­ing sar­casm must have come in handy dur­ing the high sum­mer of punk. Like Joe Strum­mer, whose fa­ther was a diplo­mat, Julien Tem­ple, a Cam­bridge grad­u­ate raised by posh Com­mu­nists, was an un­likely re­cruit to the move­ment that made bril­liant, life-chang­ing art out of street trash and ag­gres­sive ex­pec­to­ra­tion.

In­deed, Tem­ple’s par­ents banned pop­u­lar cul­ture from the house. There was no television in the home. He had barely seen a movie be­fore he went to col­lege. At Cam- bridge he de­vel­oped a pas­sion for the films of Jean Vigo, be­gan lis­ten­ing to The Kinks and started grow­ing his hair. By the time Tem­ple made his way to art school he looked dan­ger­ously like a hip­pie.

“The ar­rival of Roxy Mu­sic was the point I cut my hair,” Tem­ple, per­fectly charm­ing when en­coun­tered alone, tells me af­ter we es­cape the cin­ema. “They were friends of the artist in res­i­dence at the art col­lege I at­tended. Syd Bar­rett was there as well. It was a very ex­cit­ing time.”

Tem­ple first en­coun­tered Strum­mer when both men were squat­ting in west Lon­don dur­ing the mid-1970s. At this point, Joe was still hang­ing onto as­pects of hip­pie cul­ture while the fu­ture film-maker had ad­vanced into the bolder world of glam rock. Then, a reve­la­tion. While strolling around the East End one morn­ing, Julien heard snatches of the tremen­dous clam­our the world would come to recog­nise as The Sex Pis­tols.

“I first saw them re­hearse in 1975,” he says. “It was a Sun­day af­ter­noon and I sud­denly heard this band play­ing a Small Faces song. You didn’t hear that sort of mu­sic so much in those days. So, like Alice in Won­der­land, I fol­lowed this noise to a ware­house, opened the door and there they were. In­stant en­light­en­ment.”

As punk be­gan to take off, Tem­ple was faced with a dilemma. Re­la­tions be­tween the Pis­tols and The Clash were fa­mously hos­tile, and it didn’t seem pos­si­ble to re­main cosy with both camps. Though Julien filmed some early Clash gigs (the footage ap­pears in The Fu­ture Is Un­writ­ten), he was ul­ti­mately forced to wave good­bye to his chum and get aboard the Pis­tols ex­press.

Ini­tially a buf­fer be­tween Johnny Rot­ten and Mal­colm McLaren, the Pis­tols’ Machi­avel­lian man­ager, Tem­ple was drafted in to di­rect The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, a sur­real epic de­tail­ing the rise and fall of the band, when first choice Russ Meyer turned the project down. By the time of the film’s re­lease in 1980, Rot­ten – now John Ly­don again – was barely talk­ing to McLaren. Once again Julien had to de­cide which side he was on.

“In the end, Mal­colm did it for me,” he says. “He said he had been speak­ing to my teach­ers in film school and they all said I was shit. What the fuck did they know? It wasn’t a very punk think to say: ‘I’ve been talk­ing to your teach­ers’. Even­tu­ally I was taken back as a slave. But then the re­ceivers came in and kicked me out of the edit­ing suite. So we fin­ished it else­where and had a laugh mak­ing fun of Mal­colm at the end of the film.”

Ly­don, who re­mains on good terms with Tem­ple, was happy to con­trib­ute to The Filth and the Fury, Tem­ple’s 2000 ex­am­i­na­tion of the Pis­tols’ ca­reer, but McLaren is only seen in ar­chive footage. Have they never made up? “No. I re­mem­ber once com­ing across him run­ning for the same plane as me. But no. We haven’t made up. He is not the eas­i­est guy. There is no loy­alty there.”

Af­ter Swindle, Tem­ple had a dif­fi­cult time of it. Ab­so­lute Begin­ners, his flawed, though fas­ci­nat­ing, mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of Colin MacInnes’s cult novel of Lon­don in the 1950s, is of­ten cited as the film that an­ni­hi­lated the Bri­tish film in­dus­try (again). Fol­low­ing that pic­ture’s fi­nan­cial melt­down in 1986, he trav­elled to Hol­ly­wood where he made the – let’s be kind – fit­ful Earth Girls Are Easy, star­ring Geena Davis.

Called up too soon: The late Joe Strum­mer

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