Music

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Ron Hart

The director of Earth Girls Are Easy finally sees his masterful cinematic character study on the late "punk rock warlord" Joe Strummer released on DVD, with minimal extras.


Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Length: 125
Label: Legacy
UK Release Date: 2007-09-17
US Release Date: 2008-07-08
Trailer
Amazon
iTunes

“Punk Rock Warlord” – That was how Joe Strummer wanted to be remembered, as he so defiantly declared in the audio of the opening scene of The Future Is Unwritten, a poetically beautiful celluloid tribute to the legendary late frontman for the Clash.

Joe was indeed a warlord, albeit one of a cultural conquest whose saber was his pen, his notebook his shield and his battle plight the raising of awareness for the working class people constantly taking a backseat to oligarchic greed and corporate saturation. And who better than Temple, who helped to deliver such a brutally honest and visually entertaining two-part dissertation of the rise and plummet of the Clash’s ’77 punk rivals the Sex Pistols in the forms of 1980’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and 2000s The Flith and the Fury, to deliver the character study of such a complex and passionate man who helped shape the last 30 years of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it.

That aforementioned opening scene sees Strummer blasting out “White Riot” a capella in the studio as though he had all the electric fury of Mick Jones’ guitar, Paul Simonon’s bass and Topper Headon’s drums roaring right behind him (which eventually happens). It's a fitting start to a film that delves deep into the calculated madness behind Strummer’s methodology. Told through unearthed interviews with Strummer, killer swaths of performance footage and exclusively-filmed testimonials from a wide variety of friends, family and famous fans, The Future Is Unwritten reaches as far and wide as the ideals of its subject.

Temple utilizes two of Strummer’s greatest loves, his BBC radio program and his unrequited love for jamming beside a campfire, as the dual backdrops for which to build upon the story of Strummer’s life and his music. And interwoven within these backdrops are a seemingly-endless barrage of animated interludes, historic stock footage, random film clips of such Joe-centric film classics as Raging Bull and George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, home movies. There's a phenomenal soundtrack featuring everything from Woody Guthrie to the Rolling Stones, from Pink Floyd to the MC5, from U-Roy to the Ramones, from Tim Hardin to Ernest Ranglin, and of course, various classic Clash, 101’ers, Latino Rockabilly War and Mescaleros songs. All this facilitates the director's quest to create the most well-rounded portrayal of Joe Strummer, the man, the musician and the music fan. Strummer was a scholar of all forms of music, who brought so many varying elements to the sound that helped to make his forays into the realms of dub-reggae and Spanish music come off as natural as the gnashing punk drive he cut his teeth on as a Clash City Rocker.

Around (or at least in the vicinity of) the campfire, you see such familiar faces as Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bono, Martin Scorsese, former Clash mates Jones and Topper (Simonon is conspicuous in his absence here), John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Matt Dillon, Courtney Love, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Jim Jarmusch and Johnny Depp (in full Captain Jack Sparrow regalia, no less) singing their favorite Clash tunes and waxing philosophical on the whos, whats, whens, wheres and hows of Strummer’s impact on each of their respective lives. These scenes are without a doubt the most interesting portions of The Future Is Unwritten, due to the fact that they paint a vivid portrait of how Joe’s ethics and persona cast a wide net across an unimaginable array of different people, regardless of age, race, gender, political affiliation or income bracket. Whether it was at a drug-addled squat in East London or a dusty old record shop in Kingston, Jamaica or a dance club in Lower Manhattan or a rap concert in the Bronx or a villa in rural Mexico, Strummer lived vicariously through each moment of each locale as though he was raised there himself.

“Joe had that knack of being able to go to different places around the world and really identify with the underdog,” stated longtime Clash compatriot and documentarian Don Letts in a recent interview with PopMatters. “Joe wouldn’t have been swatting around in some luxury hotel, he would invariably be down in some slum. That’s where he felt most comfortable, with the real people.”

Kudos to Julian Temple for crafting such a satisfyingly robust and unique look into the legacy of Joe Strummer with The Future Is Unwritten, now made for optimum home viewing with the film’s long-awaited release on DVD, which contains over 100 minutes of additional interview footage with the many great friends and family members who gathered together before the camera to pay tribute to one of the greatest voices in rock history.

It has been nearly seven years since Joe’s shocking and untimely death at the age of 50. But so long as people continue to take heed in his words, his actions, his ideals and, most of all, his music, and maintain his message of individuality in the face of political polarity and open-hearted acceptance of all races and cultures in spite of the barrage of hate-fueled propaganda the governments spoon-feed its citizens, his spirit will live on forever more in an unwritten future.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Music

The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.

Reviews

'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.

Reviews

Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.

Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Music

GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.