Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review | Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

I'm back. After falling to pneumonia for a while, my computer became infected with its own spyware shitstorm and had to go into the shop for a while. Plus, my hard drive was maxed out. So, I had both problems solved over the last week and, hopefully, I'll be posting more regularly again.

On Friday night, I caught the late showing of the rock doc Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten at the Green Mountain Film Festival. Here are a few thoughts on the night:

☺ The theater wasn't sold out but there weren't many empty seats either. I'm guessing it was 90%-95% full. Nice turnout considering there was a documentary about legalizing pot being shown across the street at the same time. In VT, when given a choice between pot activism and punk rock, most Vermonters awake at 10:30 will choose the pot discussion. So, a near sell-out was encouraging.

♥ There was a guy there with gray hair sporting an old Clash concert t-shirt. Nice.

♦ As mentioned in one of the comments yesterday, False 45th got a nice plug at the beginning of the movie. I doubt it had much of an impact on traffic but it was nice to hear the site mentioned in that setting. And a few new readers is always nice.

♣ As for the movie itself, I learned a few things about Strummer that I hadn't heard before. I never knew his older brother, David, killed himself while Joe was still in prep school and Joe had to ID the body since his parents weren't in the country. Plus, David had gotten heavily into the National Front movement shortly before his death. The film didn't make any direct statements about the impact those events had on Joe but it leaves you to wonder how much of Joe's politics came out of those frightening experiences.

I also didn't realize what a hippie Strummer had been. For a period in the early 1970's, he lived as a squatter with a bunch of other folks in some abandoned buildings. During that time, he even went by the name Woody in honor to Woody Guthrie. One cool part of the film during this period was the old footage they dug up of his pre-Clash band The 101'ers. In the film, the band was described as a "hippie band" but they sounded more like a garage band than something psychedelic.

The 101'ers | Keys to Your Heart | Buy

♠ In general, rock docs about one of your favorite bands fall into the category with pizza and sex as things that are good even when they are bad. So, overall, I enjoyed the film. However, I do have some problems with the film. My three complaints are the length, archival footage and celebrity interviews.

The length was too long. It clocked in about two hours which is long for a documentary and this one could have been edited down to perhaps and hour and half. It dragged for a while during Strummer's "wilderness years" between the end of The Clash and his work with The Mescaleros. During this stretch of the film, I noticed a lot of people's heads tipping to the side to get a bit of rest.

I love old previously unseen film footage and photos. It's one of the things that makes a documentary special. However, I felt that the producers of the documentary were being a bit lazy at times. When the film was discussing his years in a boarding school, they didn't seem to have any images from that period of his life. So, they just showed us black & white footage of some other random prep school. I would have preferred seeing current pictures of the actual school or just watching the people who were being interviewed at that moment. It was similar to his "hippie period" where they showed lots of photos of various London hippies but they didn't seem to dig up very many of Joe or his friends.

Lastly, what's the value of having Johnny Depp, John Cusack and Steve Buscemi coming on screen to tell us that Joe Strummer and The Clash were really good? Of course they were good. That's why we're all sitting in the friggin' theater. Was the issue in doubt and only someone who has attained fame was able to accurately judge the matter? I liked the interviews with the people who grew up with him, were in The 101'ers with him, managed The Clash, etc. However, I really didn't need Steve Buscemi going, "Yeh, I saw them in New York and I really liked the show."

At least when they interviewed Bono, he pointed out how, when The Clash first played in Dublin, the band had a backdrop photo of London police officers clubbing protesters. However, the Dublin kids saw the pictures as examples of events in Belfast and took to the band for that reason. That anecdote actually adds to the overall discussion of the band's popularity; unlike Buscemi's banal insight.

☻ Regardless, it was a good way to kick off the film festival. Now, I'll get back to posting trailers of other upcoming festival films. Many shows are sold out at this point so I'll try to stick to the ones that still have tickets available.

King Corn

* Monday, March 24 4:00 pm
* Tuesday, March 25 8:30 pm SOLD OUT
* Saturday, March 29 6:30 pm SOLD OUT

The Violin

* Monday, March 24 6:30 pm SOLD OUT
* Tuesday, March 25 2:00 pm

It's a Free World...

* Monday, March 24 4:15 pm
* Tuesday, March 25 12:00 pm
* Saturday, March 29 12:00 pm


Bob F. said...

Nice review...I have to see that film soon.

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