Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten Julien Temple

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten Julien Temple
There’s something a little disconcerting about Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. It’s not the movie itself, which is a solid piece of documentary filmmaking. Rather, it is its depiction of its subject, the inimitable John Graham Mellor.

Unquestionably one of the greatest rock’n’roll musicians to have ever graced this planet, Joe Strummer left in his wake one of the strongest discographies of any single performer. The Clash’s self-titled debut remains one of the most perfect snapshots of England’s late ’70s lower-class despair, while London Calling stands up as one of the greatest records of all time. Even his last records with the Mescaleros remain powerful testaments to the man’s songwriting prowess.

Yet, for all his outspoken political views, charismatic live performances and legendary studio recordings, Joe Strummer doesn’t come out looking like a terribly admirable guy by the end of The Future is Unwritten. In fact, he mostly looks like a dick. And yes, he fired most of the Clash, which was pretty weak, but what this film seems to unveil is that this kind of behavior was pretty much par for Strummer’s course.

Despite his status as one of punk’s most outspoken icons, the man seen in Julien Temple’s film comes off more like a callow opportunist than a rock’n’roll visionary, which is no way a condemnation of Temple’s work. Best known to punks as the man behind the brilliant The Filth and the Fury, Temple cuts together some truly staggering pieces of old film in creating this portrait, from Strummer recording "White Riot” to some thoroughly disconcerting press footage circa Cut the Crap.

The remastered songs here make for a powerful soundtrack, one that makes this film well worth seeing in theatres for any fan of Strummer’s work. But be warned: there’s an unsettling amount of well-warranted "Kill Your Idols”-type nihilism that pervades Temple’s film. (IFC)