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"Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten"
Movie review
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 17, 2008

Directed by Julian Temple
125 Minutes

Movie review by David Malsch

I've told this story before but I think it's worth repeating here again. In December, 1979, at the tender age of 12 years old, I bought The Clash's London Calling album and it changed my life. The musical path I had been on in up until then quickly veered off the well-paved path I was on and Joe Strummer jumped onto an entirely new adventurous one. London Calling, better yet, The Clash, was something brand new to me and I knew everything else in my collection suddenly meant very little to me. I immediately ripped up my membership to the Kiss Army, of which I was a proud member, and began worshipping at the altar of the mighty Joe Strummer. I haven't looked back since. There remains to this day two people's voices that will always stop me in my tracks no matter where I am when I hear their songs. They make me happy to be alive. They make bad days better and cause me to sing along at the top of my lungs. One of those voices is John Lennon; the other is Joe Strummer. The two central musical figures of my youth--two surrogate fathers I love almost as much as I do my own father--got me through hard times and helped make the good times even better. They taught me to stand up for myself and believe in the power of music. These two men taught me more about the world and its politics than any politician ever could. I am a proud, unapologetic, liberal thanks to them, and I will never let them down because of it. They were my teachers, my preachers, and my conscious. Without them coming into my life, I would have grown up an orphan.

I may be the wrong person to review this film because of these feelings but I'm going to anyway. "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten" is the new documentary about the life and legend that is Joe Strummer. He was the leader and voice of the seminal 70s punk band, The Clash, who played second fiddle to the Sex Pistols. The Clash formed in 1976 and released six albums before they disbanded in 1986. "The Future is Unwritten" isn't so much the story of the Clash but more about Joe Strummer himself. There have been a handful of films telling the life story of The Clash but this isn't one of them. This one is about who Joe was. Warts and all. Love him or hate him.

Joe Strummer was an art school dropout who began busking on the streets of London, formed a band called The 101'ers, and then, on the verge of being making it, broke up. Joe Strummer This is when the punk movement was just beginning. Eventually, The Clash formed and rock and roll would never again be the same. Joe was always a socially conscious person. In fact, during his busking days he called himself "Woody" in homage to Woody Guthrie. The Clash gave him the opportunity to be a sort of punk rock version of Mr. Guthrie, which he did wonderfully. With the success of The Clash, Strummer used his fame to spread his political and social messages to the masses. But fame was a double-edged sword at times to him. Once, for example, was when American soldiers admitted to playing his song, Rock the Casbah, as they bombed Baghdad in the first Gulf War. This physically brought Joe to tears.

"The Future is Unwritten" uses footage of The Clash years and mixes them with old home movies to tell Joe's tale. Director and friend Julian Temple also uses George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 to round things out. At times there even is a VH1 Behind the Music feel to the film with the band's sex, drugs, and rock and roll side which included the usual trouble with record labels and management. Temple also interviews the other members of the Clash along with fans such as Bono, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, and Martin Scorsese. "The Future is Unwritten" is a labor of love about a man who helped change the world with his lyrics and guitar. It is one of the great all-time music documentaries. A great film about a great man.

Strummer died of heart failure at the age of 50 in 2002 and I remember the day like it was yesterday. I still vividly remember the day John Lennon was killed, too. My two heroes are gone but both their memories will forever live on. "The Future is Unwritten" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and saw very few theatrical screenings after that. The film is finally arrived on DVD on July 8, and I encourage everyone to see it. It is the perfect opportunity to discover Joe for the first time or rediscover him once again. I miss him like crazy but this film will help keep his memory alive, they way it still is to me.

Watch the "The Future Is Unwritten" trailer

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