Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Dr Brad wrote a review of the Julien Temple film Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. and proceeded to nag me relentlessly until I got it posted. It got to the point where I was considering not using it out of spite! So here it is, becasue if I don’t take care of this immediately, he may decide not to make his annual written contribution to Skate and Annoy.

Dr Brad at the Movies presents:

“Nina Simone Si, Bernie Rhodes No!”
Strummer: The Future is Unwritten a film by Julien Temple

“Joe Strummer” has always been my answer to the question “Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?” He represents the perfect mix of aggro, intellect, and sensitivity. And it is no doubt that over time his sensitivity has emerged as his strongest trait. He cared about people, had an unmatched appreciation for world music, and when asked what he wanted to do with his life, his answer was “to groove”. All of that and he died of a failed heart while marching on an increasingly permanent trip of self-exploration.

Julien Temple’s optimistically and forebodingly titled new film, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, is great to look at. The Clash’s logos, slogans, clothes, obsession with Hollywood films, etc. played a huge part in why I liked their music to begin with and this movie is consistent with that highly visual nature of the band. And those as obsessed with the cinema as Strummer and The Clash need great movies made about them. As the opening credits roll, a short-wave signal crackles as Strummer’s name appears written in the AM/FM font behind the clear plastic tuning dial of a ghetto box- and the effect is classic radio-Clash for dread-people. Temple employs other cool techniques in the production such as having Joe’s voice recurring throughout the film as a DJ. This creates the spooky effect of old Joe indoctrinating us with roots platters from beyond the grave. The storyline is also enhanced by the inclusion of some strangely eerie b&w stock footage of British boarding school life as well as snippets from film versions of “Animal Farm” and “1984” (watch for Peter Cushing). Another highpoint is the depiction of the politics surrounding the early 70’s squatting scene in London.

This film’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t shy from revealing Strummer as a convoluted and often self-contradicting man. He apparently dealt with perpetual feelings of self-doubt in regards to his relevance as an artist and was plagued by extreme guilt (over breaking up the Clash and the death of his brother). Strummer was a geezer that could enact strict edicts of “no drugs” in his band and then later spend four days tripping in the forest on MDA. And don’t call him Woody! Ask Topper. Pleasantly, Joe confesses in the film to what was true all along – he was just as much hippy as punk rock warlord. Consistent with Strummer’s later persona as a kind of campfire Aldous Huxley, most of the film’s interviews take place around the flames of an outdoor blaze. The film’s only drawback would be its overall length, including a few too many of those interviewed spouting the same old points about the Clash/Strummer’s relevance. The people interviewed are also not identified and I honestly didn’t know who some of them were. The reflections by Scorsese, Buschemi, Cusack, Matt Dillon and many others are great though.

Kosmo’s signaling me to wrap it up at the 3:00 mark….

Rating: 4 out of 5 Rizlas



  1. Nice review. The Johnny Depp segments in his Capt. Black Jack attire were a bit distracting but funny. Good movie. I would have given a 5 of 5. Go see movie folks. You will be better for it.

  2. I didn’t like Temple’s last movie about punk rock or whatever it was. It was just boring and unimaginative. I can’t even remember what it was about. That’s why I was hesitant to see this film, even though I’m a huge Clash and Strummer fan. I’ll end up watching it though. I’m much more stoked to see Dick Rude’s Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again!

  3. guttersnipe on November 20, 2007 - Reply

    Dick Rude’s movie has been out for ages and it isn’t nearly as good as this one.

  4. Thanks Rich, I’m glad Kilwag posted it before the movie left Town (Cinema 21), that’s all I was after…

  5. Punk rock warlord. That’s warlord spelled as one word. You have 3 days to see it at Cinema 21.

  6. what the fuck is a Rizla?

  7. houseofneil on November 20, 2007 - Reply

    rolling papers. Man, kids these days. . . .

  8. houseofneil on November 20, 2007 - Reply

    Temple’s a fucking hack who was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. That piece of shit “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” is his, along with ‘Absolute Beginners”.

  9. …yeah, next they’re gonna ask what a loo roll is! Hey wait, “Absolute Beginners” the book was pretty cool though.

  10. We serve much more than the Portland area. You can buy the film as well. So the review won’t be useless once the film leaves one theatre in Portland.

    I kind of liked Absolute Beginners, but I haven’t seen it in a long, long time. Could have been my crush on Patsy Kensit and/or David Bowie.

    Punk Attitude was Temple’s last film I was thinking of. Thumbs down. Thumbs sideways at best.

  11. …that was Don Letts; yeah it was baw-ring

  12. Oh yeah… my bad, Dang, take me to school Dr. Brad!

  13. Thanks for letting me know it’s still playing…I thought I missed the final showing last week. Looks like they held it over thru Nov 22nd.

  14. Ha. Ha.

  15. houseofneil on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    Temple helped himself a little with The Filth and the Fury, but that wasn’t that good either. Average at best. He also made Earth Girls Ain’t Easy. Ouch.

  16. skategeezer on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    Patsy Kensit…damn, I’d forgotten all about her…

    she was HOT..but that film sucked!

    Didn’t she marry Noel from Oasis…

    back to this strummer doc. It looks pretty impressive. I will purchase it, cuz there is no way they are showing it for more than 15 minutes up here in Toronto.

  17. Filth and the Fury was good. “The Punk Movie” and “Punk Attitude” both blow – I was totally thinking of Don Letts. Absolute Beginners sure looked good – that’s art direction though. Even Earth Girls had a certain charm (Ok mostly just Gina Davis) The Great Rock and Roll Swindle – I don’t think you can lay all that blame on Temple, that’s got to be Malcom’s meddling for the most part.

  18. I still can’t believe they couldn’t do a better casting job in Sid and Nancy than Gary Busey. It spoiled me to any movie having to do with punk at all. My preference is not of a documentary genre, but of a cameo nature. Dudes was awesome–Flea and Lee Ving?! C’mon. “End of the Century” blew hardcore, mostly because I don’t like Johnny Ramone at all.

    That’s my two cents on punk rockers in movies.
    Good review, Brad. I will have to go see it tomorrow.
    I work with a British lady that looks exactly like Eddie Izzard.

  19. Gary Busey… har har. Gary Oldman rules. Nobosy could have done it better than him when it was made.

    How about Elijah Wood being cast as Iggy Pop. That’s a head scratcher…. I like his acting (Ice Storm is a great movie) but I can’t picture him as Iggy.

  20. Fred Perry on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    Thanks Paige. To see Strummer doing some acting (and more of Oldman as Sid), check out the rarely seen video for Strummer’s “Love Kills” from the film’s soundtrack, it was shot in mexico after filming the movie….

  21. Brad,

    You hit it on the head with the mix of “aggro, intellect, and sensitivity.” Another man that seems to channel these 3 aspects is Manu Chao. Indeed – check what he said about Joe Strummer

    “‘Every time I met any of my heroes I was disappointed – the exception was Joe Strummer, who was like an uncle to me. The last time I saw him was at a festival in Japan, sleeping out in the woods, jamming by a fire and putting on little tapes he’d made to keep the atmosphere going.’

    ‘Joe absolutely adored Manu’s music and was a friend,’ says Strummer’s widow, Lucinda. ‘I met him once with Joe at the Shepherds Bush Empire, in 2002, and there was lots of excitement when Joe turned up before the gig – attempting to speak to Manu in his broken Spanish.”

    Here’s the link

  22. Watched Don Lett’s The Clash: Westway to the World last night. Some of the same footage you see in The Future is Unwritten but much more of a conventional band documentary. Lots of concert footage, mostly from the 17 night Clash on Broadway stint which Letts also documented.

    The band members seem more blandly middle aged in their interviews. Mick Jones isn’t the grotesque homunculus he is in the Strummer movie but still looks pretty bad. Westway… has it’s moments though. I enjoyed watching it after seeing the Strummer movie two nights before. It didn’t seem as deep, but still interesting. The Clash on Broadway is an extra on the DVD.

  23. enemy combatant on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    As usual, Paige gets it all wrong. Gary Oldman singing “My Way” in Sid and Nancy is fucking classic.

    Hollywood biopics never get it right and they sure never match up to a fans view of their love object. You gotta take them for the fictions that they are. Oldman was great.

  24. Wait, CP as in CP from my old hardcore days? The man who let 7 Seconds stay over at his parents house when they were out of town?

  25. Westway is good. Watching Joe almost come to tears about breaking up the Clash… Hard to watch your hereos as vunerable human beings. I forgot that was Letts. He did a good job on that.

  26. …and he a has a pretty good book out now called “Culture Clash”.

  27. Gary Oldman. My bad, douchebag.

  28. Kilwag, I know people who would make a better Iggy Pop than Elijah Wood! Everytime I think of Elijah, I think of hairy hobbit toes.

    Movie Madness has some pretty good punk videos. I guess there’s nothing more futile than a night at home with Bushmills and the Crass video “Christ” they played at their shows.

    And then listening to the Voidoids and the Dead Boys on full blast.

    And then knowing you’ve had too much when you consider what your children with Syd Barrett would look like. I’m thankful I’m only 23 and not forty-something, otherwise I might have a bad haircut and lots of illegitimate children.

  29. JAKEFERANTI on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    RE: Iggy Pop…perhaps Harry Dean Stanton?. That dude was born lookin’ 45.

  30. Great review. I have been looking forward to this one, but I’ll probably only get to catch it on DVD.

    “RE: Iggy Pop…perhaps Harry Dean Stanton?. That dude was born lookin’ 45.”
    Harry Dean actually kind of looks like Iggy, but he’s got to be pushing 80 by now.

  31. Harry Dean Stanton: “Ladies and gentleman, the Replacements!”

    Paige, I think I heard that Johnny Depp is playing Syd Barrett.

  32. I was watching “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” the Shane MacGowan story, and he has a sing-a-long video section on there. In the video for “That Girl’s Got Me Drinking,” Johnny Depp is the scorned lover, the JILTED JOHNNY, if you will.

    And MacGowan is on the other side of the bar as the bartender. He looks uncomfortable there. He keeps drying the same glass over and over. I think it’s the only time he’s ever only watched another drink. I think that movie should have subtitles, being Irish and drunk does not help me out at all.

    I have a picture of Johnny Depp in pegged jeans and a Buzzcocks shirt. I love old dudes.

  33. JAKEFERANTI on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    I would’a said “T

  34. JAKEFERANTI on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    Damn these fat fingers^, I need a custom “typing wand”

    I would’a said “Tim Roth” but even make-up couldnt put those miles on his face.

  35. houseofneil on November 21, 2007 - Reply

    Randy, Don Letts made Westway too, so I guess he’s not all bad in your book.

  36. No. I spouted off at the mouth before I collected and recollected all the facts. Imagine that. I thought I wrote a review of it, but I guess not. Punk Attitude was weak, though.

  37. Doc’s got the gift of gab, as well the keyboard. Great review as usual. I’m gonna scrounge this one from Kilwag’s collection, there ain’t no way it’s makin it to Missoula.

  38. houseofneil on November 22, 2007 - Reply

    Punk Attitude was fine for what it was. It seemed like they ran out of funding about halfway through.

    The Chicago hardcore documentary opens this week.

  39. It’s (Strummer) actually on Pay Per View on Direct TV right now.

  40. Has anyone seen American Hardcore yet?

  41. Yeah American Hardcore was a let down for me, Neil you should go to the Chicago Hardcore movie and give us an update..and kick the Stepe brothers in the nuts for me…

  42. Yes, but if you examine closely you will also see the strong influence of Barney Fife in Strummers work. To a lesser extent Aunt Bea as well. In fact I am watching Mayberry right now in order to continue my personal growth.

  43. I am a true music lover and love and appreciate everything from Satie to The Jet Blacks to Woody Guthrie. Joe Strummer was the real deal. How sad he’s gone but how lucky we all are to be able to enjoy his rich legacy.

  44. By the way, does Kilwag’s wife like vintage aprons from the ’50s? If she does, I will send her a few really fine ones!

  45. If you can believe it, this movie is on Comcast’s IFC In Theatres section on OnDemand. It is more money than a regular movie on OnDemand, but since it hasn’t played in Denver, I was stoked.

    I definitely recommend any big Strummer fan check it out to form their own opinion, but I thought Westway to the World was superior. IMO you could better substitute WTTW for this movie, save the last 30 minutes, which is about Joe post-Clash.

    I found that I didn’t like the use of Joe’s thoughts as narrative…not seeing him speak his own words for most of the movie was weird. There were also key people in Joe’s life absent from the film and it felt like many of the people that were interviewed didn’t know Joe that well. I also thought the use of the “Animal Farm” cartoon and “1984” film clips were excessive and awkward.

    On the positive, I like how this movie focused the campfire thing around Joe’s radio show, which I sorely miss. I also really dug how the film demystified Joe’s life…showing his family life, his sometimes hypocrisy, and his genuine love of people.

  46. That, my friends, is a comment.

    Mystery Juli, My wife does likes vintage prints and fabrics, but what an odd thing to bring up here! Do I/we know you?

  47. ash’s comment/review is the reason I will be going to get this today.. helluva comment..

  48. Mikey Dread died the other day of a brain tumor, I’m bummed out, Dread gone from the CON-trols…RIP

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