Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten review

:. Director: Julien Temple
:. Genre: Documentary
:. Running Time: 2:03
:. Year: 2007
:. Country: USA


Continuing after the acclaimed Filth & The Fury, documentary filmmaker Julien Temple once again gives us an inside look at the Punk era, this time focusing on Joe Strummer, the colorful lead singer of the politically-charged Punk-Reggae band The Clash.

Intertwining interviews and archival footage, The Future Is Unwritten clearly follows the Filth & The Fury blue print, this time replacing re-enacted scenes with testimonials from Strummer's peers and fans. The documentaries approach here is more formatted than his take on the Sex Pistols and while this is certainly the work of an enthusiast, Temple tries to give us a fair portrait of a talented but highly flawed man.

Whether or not you are familiar with Strummer's persona and music, the story of this bourgeois kid turned revolutionary icon is certainly original enough to be appealing. Temple's directional choices are more problematic, however, as his lack of focus often results in a mess that leaves spectators baffled.

Relying heavily on anecdotes, Temple's first omission is to never introduce his interviewees, whether they are known or not, which not only forces you to play a guessing game but also tends to undermine the impact of the message.

But the choice of these interviewees and the importance they are allocated is probably the biggest issue of The Future Is Unwritten. Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon being almost absent, Temple offers in exchange a strange gallery of guests including early band mates, old classmates and a mixed bag of celebrities such as U2's Bono, Linda Ramone, Matt Dillon, Johnny Depp, Steve Buscemi and John Cusack. While some of them did actually know Strummer, the other ones are just testifying as fans, which makes you question the validity of their presence - what Depp, Bono and Cusack are doing here remains somewhat of a mystery, and their arrival onscreen was welcomed by boos by the old-school punk audience at the Los Angeles Film Festival screening.

The use of bonfires as a setting for contemporary footage seemed random, making no sense until the last chapter of Strummer's life, and his solo and Mescalero career gets too much time and weight in the narrative, compared to the Clash days.

Coming out of the screening, I certainly knew more about the life of the iconic punk singer, but I couldn't help thinking that Strummer's and The Clash's stories were still unwritten, at least onscreen.

  Fred Thom

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