No ordinary Joe
JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN Directed by Julien Temple 15A cert, IFI/Movies@Dundrum, Dublin, 123 min
POINTING out that Julien Temple brings a punk sensibility to his study of the life and premature death of Joe Strummer, former lead singer of The Clash, risks giving the impression that The Future Is Unwritten has a chaotic, thrown-together quality to it. Well, the picture certainly does not suffer from an excess of tidiness.
Alternating shots of Strummer in action with encomiums from various friends and celebrities (Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese, all surviving Clash members bar, strangely, Paul Simonon), this busy entertainment, which shuns captions and voiceover, could never be mistaken for an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. But it remains an admirably controlled work, which, following recent films on The Sex Pistols and Glastonbury, belatedly confirms Temple as a documentarian of some talent. Unlike last year’s Leonard Cohen film, which coupled good music with mediocre film-making, The Future Is Unwritten offers a satisfying double whammy.
Snippets of such dramas as Lindsay Anderson’s If . . . and the BBC’s 1984 are smuggled into the montage to complement and occasionally subvert the story of the diplomat’s son who threw off his middle-class baggage to become, first, a dedicated squatter and, then, the frontman of the second most significant punk band.
Temple, who first met Strummer in the mid-1970s, before decamping to the Pistols’ court, unearths some stunning footage of the Clash’s early days and allows the contributors – who, in acknowledgement of an enthusiasm of Joe’s, are arranged round campfires – ample space to append footnotes, commentaries and corrections.
The final stages of the picture sag somewhat as Temple struggles to sell us Strummer’s so-so later work, but the singer remains energetic, amusing, irascible company throughout.
Clash City Rockers everywhere should rejoice.