The Rise and Fall of The Clash is a 2014 documentary with a lot going for it, including rare archival footage of (as this film describes them) “The Only Band that Mattered”, old and new interviews and a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll. However, the title is a remarkable misnomer, as there is something of a lack of yeast in the brew here.
“The Rise” of The Clash, the influential Punk Rock band that branched out into so many varied genres, is never really explored here. In fact, for those fans (or interested parties in general) looking for a “complete” documentary (as the title thoroughly promises) should inquire elsewhere. Is this a bad documentary? No, however it does require a great deal of pre-knowledge of the band (and their rise) in order to follow its narrative. That said, those looking for an in-depth look at the dissolution of The Clash (with almost no commentary on the band’s aftermath), will surely be satisfied with what we are given.
While there are descriptions of each band member and their contributions to this iconic rock band, there’s no discussion of the formation of the band. Indeed, the band that is described at the very beginning of the film is from later in The Clash’s game, focusing on drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon instead of their original drummer Terry Chimes. Sure, Topper had a much longer tenure than Chimes, but he did join the band long after The Clash began their rise.
Bernie Rhodes had been the band’s original manager, who had been replaced. Mere lip service is given here to the interim management before the (oft-reviled) Rhodes was brought back to manage the band. Similarly, Chimes is heralded here as the replacement for Topper Headon (and an inferior one at that) upon his return, rather than truly detailing Chimes’ initial contributions to the band before Headon’s tenure.
By the 19th minute of this 96-minute documentary, any semblance of a “rise” story has already been dispensed with and the tale has turned dark. Who are these four guys, how did they get together, how did Headon join the band and why, what truly makes them “the only band that mattered” and how did they “Rise”? Well, true fans surely know much of this already, but those looking for answers in this film will find very little explaining these things. Instead, we are told that they simply were the best and the film treats the band as if they simply debuted in the spotlight fully formed and changed the world before beginning to crumble.
Putting this a different way, the first album mentioned in The Rise and Fall of The Clash is Combat Rock. For those not in the know, Combat Rock is The Clash’s fifth and second-to-last album, their most commercially successful and (for many fans) the beginning of their end. An inordinate amount of time is spent on the band’s final release, Cut the Crap, a critical and commercial failure, released after the departure of guitarist Mick Jones and drummer Terry Chimes (for the second time) and featuring only guitarist/ vocalist Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon.
To be sure, there are many documentaries that tell their deep stories out of order, setting up the hard times of their subjects and then rocketing back into the past to explain exactly how things devolved to the point that the opening describes. In truth, had this truly been something like “The Fall and Rise of The Clash” this might have become a very successful and informative documentary for fans and historians alike. However, this never happens, and we never really see anything but the final years of The Clash without any focus on the band’s evolution, musically or personally.
That said, The Rise and Fall of The Clash begins to shine when it focuses on the fall of The Clash (a downward spiral that covers well over an hour of this film). The psychology of Strummer is explored in great detail (albeit without any true commentary from the late Strummer himself), especially in his efforts to keep the band extant toward the end. The influence of commercialism, the absence of Jones and the drug abuse of Headon are all discussed in detail. Also handled in great detail is the replacement of the rest of the band so as to formulate an exploited five-piece band with Strummer at its center (as singer, not guitarist, in spite of his name). Meanwhile Mick Jones, fascinated by hip-hop since the English band’s stint as headliners in New York, formulated the band Big Audio Dynamite to great success, while Cut the Crap failed miserably.
The Rise and Fall of The Clash isn’t merely missing the “Rise” portion of its title. The disc is also completely devoid of DVD extras. There is no commentary, cut scene or even trailer for the film itself. Is The Rise and Fall of The Clash a complete waste of time? No. For the era that contained the band’s final two albums, the dissolution of the band and some interesting archival footage, the film is more than fine. However, for those seeking a definitive Rise and Fall of The Clash, the experience is far from complete. As soon as the band’s story is finished, the entire documentary ends (with barely a mention of the reconciliation of Jones and Strummer, years later). Listening for “London Calling”? Listen elsewhere.