Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (15)

Directed by Julien Temple
Screening at FACT from 7th-9th June 2007

Reviewed by Adam Ford

I really enjoyed this film. The reason for that is that it was a celebratory biopic of John Mellor (much much much better known to the world as 'Joe Strummer'), and I think he was a really great guy. People who share my opinion will no doubt really enjoy this film too! What more is there to say? Well, I'd better say something.

If you've ever seen any biopic, you know what to expect. There's archive footage, there's interviews with people who knew the person in question. But here, the approach of punk's most famous documentary-maker Julien Temple is quite refreshingly different in a couple of respects. Firstly, almost all the interviews were conducted around a campfire, in a tribute to Joe's love of that environment. The only exception to this is imperial courtier and part-time rock star Bono, who got a well-deserved chorus of boos at my screening. Even more uniquely, though many of those interviewed are 'celebrities', their names do not appear on the screen. So when Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream appears, he is a Scottish bloke who was touched by The Clash when he was working in a factory. And that's great in a way, because this fact is much more important than his reasonably famous name.

Another nice touch is that Temple throws in some footage of things that Joe wasn't actually involved in - such as the BBC film of 1984 with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith - to give us a deeper impression of Strummer's lifelong battles with authority, from school bullies to dictatorial record company execs.

The film ends with November 2002 footage, showing one of Joe's last ever gigs, in support of firefighters striking for a decent wage and against cuts. The final words go to the prince of gutter poets, who went from privilege to poverty and back but whose 'heart' and brain always belonged to the working class and its struggles:

"People can change anything, so let's do things from a level of confidence and go for it!"

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