Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (IFC Films, NR)

film_strummer.jpgStrummer’s ups and downs certainly mirror the general expectation of a rock icon, but what’s reassuring about the film is that Strummer seems so painfully aware of the clichés.

 

 

 

 

 

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Julien Temple was probably the best man to take on a documentary about Joe Strummer, lead singer of The Clash. With a few exceptions, Temple has always been preoccupied with bringing music to the screen. From his Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury and his Davie Bowie- and Patsy Kensit-starring musical Absolute Beginners to his music videos for artists as different as Blur and Whitney Huston, his obsession with music, particularly of the British sort, has always come through in cinema. In The Future Is Unwritten, he compiles interviews with an array of people that include friends of Strummer, Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Johnny Depp, Bono, Courtney Love and John Cusack alongside radio interviews of Strummer recalling his career. (None of the interviewees are identified, so if you’re not "in the know," good luck trying to figure out who most of the people are.)

Though some Strummer fans might suggest Temple’s style is a bit too flashy and stylistic for a band as unpretentious as The Clash, The Future Is Unwritten is still rather effective. However, it should probably be stated that it’s also, style aside, a fairly run-of-the-mill music documentary, and no matter how great an artist you find Strummer, a straightforward music documentary always tends to feel like something you’d see on VH1. There’s something mysterious and concentrated about documentaries like Gimme Shelter, Depeche Mode 101, or even the recent PJ Harvey: On Tour Please Leave Quietly that keeps the focus away from legend, testimonial, and demystification.

Your appreciation of The Future Is Unwritten is all what you want out of a music doc. If you’re looking for a rundown of Strummer’s life from childhood to his death in 2002, you’ve got it. Temple’s use of The Clash’s songs is remarkable, making them sound almost as if you were hearing London Calling for the first time all over again. His visual style is interesting, if puzzling at times when deciding to cut footage of riots with Animal Farm. Strummer’s ups and downs certainly mirror the general expectation of a rock icon, but what’s reassuring about the film is that Strummer seems so painfully aware of the clichés. However, if you don’t want your myths about rock ‘n’ roll dispelled, opt for something else. | Joe Bowman

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