Joe Strummer may have sung “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” but American audiences will be anything but bored with music video innovator Julien Temple’s coruscating celebration of the iconic Clash singer/songwriter, who died in 2002.
In a real sense, Temple began making Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten back in 1976, when—before deciding to ditch The Clash and make his first film about the Sex Pistols, instead—he shot some of the black-and-white footage now incorporated into this punk-rock doc. There’s no doubt that The Future Is Unwritten benefits from the director’s long, legitimate relationship with punk and its lasting effects on his cinematic aesthetic, but Temple makes some distracting choices here—including simultaneously overdosing on clips from film adaptations of George Orwell’s novels 1984 and Animal Farm to establish a tenuous thematic thread and an uninteresting interviews with celebrities whose connections to Strummer seem tangential at best. (What, for instance, is wrong with this scene: Bono of U2, wearing those ridiculous wraparound sunglasses at night, starting a sentence with the words: “What pisses me off about The Clash .” The audience at a recent screening on the Sunset Strip actually hissed at that footage.)
The fact that the documentary is still relatively riveting is more a testament to what a compelling character Strummer was than to the often meandering narrative that Temple pieces together out of such strong material—although he is owed praise for the decision to shoot the majority of his talking heads sitting around the campfires that so fascinated his subject later in life. What in most movies would be static shots of well-dressed elder statesmen sitting in armchairs are here enlivened by the flickering flames between the interviewee and the interviewer’s camera.
For Strummer, campfires—especially those started during music festivals—were all about creating community, and there’s enough of his heat in The Future Is Unwritten to draw an audience.
Distributor: IFC First Take
Cast: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Nick Headon, Terry Chimes, Tymon Dogg, Iain Gillies, Alasfair Gillies, Steve Jones, Bono, Flea, Jim Jarmusch, John Cusack, Johnny Depp and Martin Scorsese
Director: Julien Temple
Producers: Amanda Temple, Anna Campeau and Alan Moloney
Running time: 124 min.
Release date: November 2, 2007 NY/LA