DVD Review: Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
When he died unexpectedly of a congenital heart defect in December 2002 at age 52, Joe Strummer had ironically found the peace he had sought for many years, both personally and professionally - particularly the latter.
He and his band the Mescaleros was playing to rapturous audiences and had a new album in the pipeline. And as younger bands lined up to praise the seminal punk rock band with hosannas, interest in the Clash was revitalized with the announcement of its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . And just one month before, former Clash-mate Mick Jones had played with Strummer at a fireman’s benefit - the first time the pair had shared a stage in close to 20 years.
Could Strummer have been that much closer together to putting back together the band he admits fell apart at his own hands?
Sadly, fans would not get a Clash reunion, and the punk rock icon wouldn’t even live long enough to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony a few months later. Strummer's death left friends, fans and journalists to try and sort out the impact and make sense of a man who was a wildly swinging contradiction. Raised a privileged diplomat’s son, he later chose to live in squalor in dilapidated buildings.
He’d rail against corporate rock, but accepted a huge paycheck to headline the 1983 US Festival. He spoke of brotherhood between the boys, but wouldn’t hesitate to fuck your girlfriend when your back was turned.
Temple’s film tells the pretty much linear story of Strummer’s life by mixing archival audio and video of him, news footage, and contemporary interviews with former bandmates, managers, friends, wives, lovers, and famous fans like Johnny Depp and John Cusack.
And keeping it real, not all of what they have to say is complimentary. Temple does not include onscreen IDs, so the viewer is left to piece together who the talking head might be. Curiously, bassist Paul Simonon is the only member of either the original or classic Clash lineup not to participate.
Included is color footage of Strummer as a boy with his family, along with ultra-rare black and white rehearsal and “atmospheric” video of early Clash in which Strummer, Simonon and Jones look more like slightly nervous schoolboys than the punk firebrands they would become. Strummer also left behind hundreds of drawings and doodlings he’d done over the years, and Temple imaginatively “animates” many of them to illustrate a particular chapter or subject in his life. It’s a cool touch.
Late in life, Joe Strummer took to the outdoors and found an enthusiasm for camping at outdoor raves and rock festivals. Inevitably, he would have a campfire going and pull in friends and strangers alike for a bit of communal talk and music making in the so-called “Strummervilles.”