Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

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PARK CITY -- You don't have be a fan of the 1970s British punk rock sensation the Clash to enjoy Julien Temple's "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," a visually exciting, high-octane, rock history of the band and its charismatic frontman and songwriter, Joe Strummer. Simply said: It's terrific.

With support from critics and positive word-of-mouth, Temple's docu should have as good or better boxoffice than Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster," another behind-the-scenes music docu, which grossed about $2 million worldwide.

Driven by a propulsive energy, this brilliantly edited movie moves at warp speed, starting when Strummer, nee John Mellor, a diplomat's son and public school boy, figured out that he was a leader and a misfit. Strummer reminisces about how he went from the prison of boarding school (Temple uses clips from Michael Anderson's 1956 adaptations of George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm") into the moveable feast that was the 1960s.

Intelligent, always articulate and top dog in his bands, Strummer from the beginning was a force of nature onstage, a fount of relentless energy so intense it was impossible to look at anyone else when he was performing. One can see his magnetism even in grainy clips of his early gigs.

A specialist in dynamic rock 'n' roll movies, Temple uses rare archival footage, animated versions of Strummer's cartoons and drawings and voice-over cobbled together from Strummer's numerous interviews as well as his BBC radio show, "London Calling."

Friends say Strummer had no use for money but did covet fame. Yet when fabulous success arrived, Strummer was embarrassed. It went against his worldview. Eventually, drugs and petty conflicts led to the demise of the band. Strummer preached humanity and political awareness from the stage but had a nasty habit of stealing the girlfriends of his fellow band members. The hit "Should I Stay or Should I Go," co-written with guitarist Mick Jones, became an anthem for the terminally ambivalent and signaled trouble ahead for the band.

The Clash officially expired in 1985. It took Strummer a decade to recover from his wild ride. He tried acting, appeared in Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train," wrote a movie soundtrack, cut an ill-fated album, formed a new band. Nothing quite took.

Old friends, musicians, former band members and family, along with Bono, John Cusack, Johnny Depp and Jarmusch, share their recollections, not all of them flattering. Some of this footage was shot around a campfire, in reference to events Strummer organized after the band died.

Strummer's star burned so bright in his youth, it's a little sad to see him in his 40s, heavier and middle-aged, hawking a concert on the street or doing a benefit performance. He had a fatal heart attack in 2002. It turns out he was mortal after all.

JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN
Film4, Sony BMG, Parallel Films and HanWay Films present a Nitrate Film and Parallel Films production
Credits: Director: Julien Temple
Producer: Amanda Temple, Anna Campeau, Alan Moloney
Executive producer: Jeremy Thomas
Director of photography: Ben Cole
Music: Ian Neil
Co-producer: Orlagh Collins, Susan Mullen, Stephan Mallmann
Editor: Mark Reynolds, Tobias Zaldua, Niven Howie
Running time: 125 minutes
No MPAA rating
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