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Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Well-done revelations
By MATT ASHARE  |  November 7, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEOWatch the trailer for Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.

Julien Temple was a film student at Kings College in Cambridge in 1976 and 1977, the years of the great British punk explosion. He’s converted that experience into two films about the Sex Pistols, 1980’s The Great Rock and Roll Swindle and 2000’s The Filth and the Fury, and now this one about former Clash frontman Joe Strummer. Temple, who had befriended Strummer, had access to rare footage as well as the musician’s coterie of friends and associates.

There are a few important characters missing from The Future Is Unwritten — like Paul Simonon, the bassist who’d stuck with Strummer to the bitter end of the Clash. But the film is populated with all kinds of characters who played salient roles in Strummer’s life, from members of his first pub-rock band, the 101’ers, to ex-girlfriends and squatmates who witnessed his rise as a messianic punk proselytizer — the frontman of “the only band that matters.” Temple captures the chaos of Strummer’s early years, with overlays of interviews with him and footage from the era. And he uses two clever devices to frame his story: the campfires around which Strummer’s friends sit and reminisce, and snippets of Strummer’s BBC World Service radio show, which serves as an ongoing backdrop. There are plenty of revelations about Strummer’s shifting personas — the cruelty with which he fired bandmembers, the kindness he showed to strangers and fans, the deep depression he sank into after the Clash’s demise. And in the end, Unwritten is as much of a portrait of the Clash as it is of Strummer. 125 Minutes | Coolidge Corner

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