In the early 1970s and 1980s, the Clash revolutionized the meaning of punk and the purpose of rock ‘n’ roll. Band frontman Joe Strummer was at the head of that permanent change, becoming the paragon for bands who formed for a cause, and not just because the manager of some small-time, sidewalk sex shop found the perfect pieces to the perfect punk puzzle.
Before the Clash exploded on to the scene, Strummer was a gypsy-hippy hybrid, learning guitar in the London underground and a part of the squatting scene amongst British youth. He was an art student with aspirations to become a cartoonist and fronted the bands the 101ers and the Vultures.
Even before that, he was John Graham Mellor, a good student who played kick-the-can with his two older brothers in whatever exotic locale his career diplomat father was sent to that year. He had an interesting palate with which he would build his experience with the Clash.
Film, documentary and music video director Julien Temple has been responsible for a large range of documentaries on the Sex Pistols, most notably ‘The Filth and the Fury,’ which documented the band from its rather short-lived, humble beginnings as kids in Shepherd’s Bush to its final demise at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. His numerous rock documentaries, however, go beyond the many he’s done about the Sex Pistols.
Already having gone to several film festivals, his latest documentary about Strummer is not only a crowning achievement for the filmmaker but is also a personal project. A celebration of the life of his peer, Strummer’s life mirrors Temple’s in that the film has a sense of autobiography.
This allowed Temple to present Strummer not just in the prospect of fame and fortune, but throughout his various personal journeys from diplomat’s son in Ankara, Turkey to what some might have seen as an aging hipster with Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros.
In each stage of Strummer’s life he learned from the one before, which was what made him into the unique individual he was.
With Temple’s film, ‘Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten,’ we get a personal sense for the kind of person Strummer was. With interviews from childhood and lifelong friends and colleagues, ex-girlfriends, ex-best friends, ex-band mates and even the occasional celebrity who hasn’t tired from 15-plus minutes of fame, the personal touch to Temple’s film seems insurmountable to any other documentary about Strummer.
The film is symbolically structured, as the interviews take place at campfires similar to Strummerville, his personal summer camp-style collection of individuals camping at the music festival in Glastonbury.
Strummer was an iconoclast who put more time and effort into reinventing the system than destroying it. He made the Clash important and accessible to fans from all walks of life.
Temple’s film is genuine and its personality is compatible only to a persona like Strummer himself. ‘Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten’ is set for wider release Nov. 2 in New York and Los Angeles.