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Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

by Archives March 4, 2008

The film’s core hovers affectionately around campfire conversations about the late Joe Strummer’s influence on a generation, with Depp, Bono, Flea, Scorsese, ex-lovers and more weighing in on how Strummer changed their lives.
In the night’s firelight, director Julien Temple documents this love-in of various cultural zeitgeists and musical heroes, immersing us in Strummer’s still-vibrant aura. While the lasting importance of Strummer is musingly presented and the film wins over the soul, Temple doesn’t quite penetrate Strummer’s complex and contradictory character. Many questions are left unanswered.
Strummer went from being a diplomat’s son to living in the thick of London’s underground. He went from folk singer, to punk rocker, to hippie, doing what he describes as being “even more important than the music” – organizing “Strummerville campfires” where ideas and voices were exchanged over the firelight.
To put this “in memoriam” campfire for Strummer in context, the doc rocks out when it needs to, with that Clash-like sense of urgency that characterizes their sound. A plethora of archival footage from protests on the streets of London, nightstick-toting Bobbies zooming around the forefront, mixed with some of Strummer’s animated sketches and footage from Animal Farm and 1984 create a discordant mixture of image and sound.
The documentary begs the question: where is the next Joe Strummer? Is he squatting in some abandoned hollow? Is he just now rebelling against a privileged upbringing, like the late Strummer did in his youth? Is he cultivating an image to get his anti-authoritarian message out to the masses?
The Clash made waves in the ’80s and Strummer cared deeply about his message to the people. He injected the public sphere with a much-needed dose of activism, channeling the energy of punk music towards ideas about political and social freedom. Strummer got an energetic youth up in arms, asking critical questions and learning what it was to be alive.
The documentary shows a crushed Strummer after hearing news of American soldiers writing “Rock the Casbah” on bombs dropped during Desert Storm. This post-Clash Strummer walks aimlessly, alone, contemplating his impact. As if asking, was it in fact all in vain?
The Future is Unwritten is a great musical documentary, although a bit unconventional in presentation. Don’t expect a step-by-step history lesson on Joe Strummer – expect an immersed experience that cherishes Strummer, in all his “mouthy lil’ git” glory.

The Future is Unwritten is playing at Cinema du Parc.

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