Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Filmmaker Julien Temple, who has made his career documenting the Sex Pistols, turns his attention to another Brit punk legend: Joe Strummer, the iconic, world-wise frontman for the Clash, who tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2002. Temple is painstakingly thorough in laying out this insidery biography of the influential musician. Born in Turkey to a left-wing diplomat, John Graham Mellor (who rechristened himself Joe Strummer for his instrumental style) spent much of his childhood moving from country to country before his parents sent him and his soft-spoken older brother (who would years later become a neo-Nazi before committing suicide) to the bully-ruled halls of boarding school. From here we follow Strummer through a Bob Dylan–esque, self-mythologizing evolution, from art-school student and squatter activist to aspiring rockabilly musician to, in his joking words, “Punk Rock Warlord” (after being fixed up with Mick Jones, Keith Levene, and Paul Simonon by self-proclaimed punk legend and manager Bernie Rhodes). Temple brilliantly uses old audio of Strummer to have him posthumously narrate his own story and brings together old friends, ex-friends, former bandmates (Temple doesn?t offer names, and the subjects don?t identify themselves — a frustrating elision for a less acquainted audience), and an assortment of celebrities (e.g., Bono and Matt Dillon), who converge at a campfire to deliver revelatory stories (an old girlfriend said he was “never bothered about money, but did care about fame”). If the nearly two hour-long doc isn?t enough to satisfy diehard Strummer fans (for whom Temple’s completist approach is best suited ) there are 100-plus bonus hours of interviews from the cutting-room floor.