Friday, November 2, 2007

"Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten"


Campfire Stories: Joe Strummer's Still Burning

For a punk-rock icon, Joe Strummer was something of a chameleon.

The late Clash frontman is the subject of a documentary hitting theaters today, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. The film illuminates not only his brightly burning years as a self-described punk-rock warlord but also gets at the lesser known aspects of the man: Born John Mellor, he was a worldly diplomat's son, a bossy little brother, a boarding school bully, a Woody Guthrie-loving folkie, a pub-rock up-and-comer, a punk-rock convert and still much more, including as the film reveals, a campfire aficionado.

Filmmaker Julien Temple combines great music, excellent archival footage—childhood home movies; pictures from his school days; early recordings; film footage with his earlier band, the 101'ers and more—like reminiscences with friends, family and bandmates who share stories around campfires set picturesquely in places like London and Los Angeles.

This unusual approach has its charms, but it also has its limitations. Temple doesn't introduce all of the speakers, so the opinions of, say, filmmaker-musician Don Letts (who knew the band at its start, shot some of the archival footage used in the film and formed Big Audio Dynamite with ousted Clash guitarist Mick Jones) don't come with as much context as they would have in a more traditional doc. Also, this down-home approach makes the celeb appearances by Bono, John Cusack and Johnny Depp seem slightly out of place.

Still, it's an absolute must-see for fans and more than intriguing enough to keep newbies entertained and enticed to find out more.

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