October 30, 2007
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten."Tales of meteoric rise, inevitable burnout and slow climb back to something resembling normalcy are familiar from the biographies of a thousand haunted artists, but Julien Temple's The Future is Unwritten stands out for its extraordinarily smooth filmmaking, which incorporates clips from contemporary films, photos, [Joe] Strummer's own artwork, and music from his BBC radio show to good effect," writes Jürgen Fauth. At Slant, Nick Schager finds it, "for the most part, some sort of incredible. In a fashion similar to his 2002 Sex Pistols portrait The Filth and the Fury, Temple confronts not only his legendary punk rock subject but also the cultural and political upheaval of the 70s and 80s British culture from which they emerged." Updated through 11/4. "It's the film equivalent of what journalists with elusive subjects call a 'write-around,'" suggests David Edelstein in New York. "[Y]ou only get a taste of what made the Clash for a brief period the most exciting band on that side of the Atlantic (the Ramones dominated ours) in an early live performance of 'I'm So Bored With the USA,' which makes you want to pogo up and down and throw up your fists. It doesn't matter who Joe Strummer was. He was that moment, and will never die." "You can see why someone would make such a moony doc on this (multi) culture warrior - and why it'd be so inadequate." Mark Asch explains in the L Magazine. "Old punks are just as bad as old hippies," Temple tells Aaron Hillis in an IFC News interview. "But the ideas are part of a ground rebel human tradition that become more and more important as we get closer to maybe [becoming] the first species to design our own extinction. If you want to be human, you should have some of those ideas aired again." And indieWIRE interviews Temple, too. Updates: In another interview, this one at the Reeler, Temple tells ST VanAirsdale, "I never understood that [Martin Scorsese] was such a nutty Clash fan. He was showing me pictures of his parents having dinner with The Clash at their house." "Temple's engrossing portrait of the Clash's late frontman uses endlessly suggestive montage to show how he kept punk's precepts alive, even after he left the music and eventually the earth itself," writes Jim Ridley. "The Future Is Unwritten is less a eulogy than a wake, and one in which the subject is startlingly present." Updates, 10/31: Nick Dawson talks with Temple "about his unusual first meeting with Strummer, keeping his punk sensibility and why he wishes he'd made Méliès's A Trip to the Moon." "The Future Is Unwritten is no radical departure in content from most print-the-legend rock docs: that is, it burnishes down complex social frustrations, individual crises, and years of bad beer and crap gigging, to create one smooth, aerodynamic entertainment," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "What merit it has comes mainly through hooking onto the momentum of the Clash's music--the editing decoupages archived rehearsal video over excerpts from Zero de conduit, Orwell adaptations, and streetfighting footage, making for a crackling melange of generalized 'rebellion' that fits the band's own fist-in-the-air bosh." Updates, 11/2: "[I]nsofar as I can drag myself back from raving fandom to some kind of detachment, I think The Future Is Unwritten - which is Temple's preferred title; the distributors have added Joe Strummer over his objections - is the most powerful documentary I've seen all year, and one of the two or three best films ever made about an artist or musician," writes Andrew O'Hehir, who has a good long talk with Temple for Salon. "It's history, criticism, philosophy and politics, played fast and loud," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Strummer's story is less exciting than the Sex Pistols (whose isn't?), but it holds interest as a classic tale of how life happens to youthful aggression," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "A large part of what made The Clash superior to other Class Of 77 bashers was Strummer's wit and curiosity, and after absorbing the whole of The Future Is Unwritten, fans will better know where that side of Strummer came from, and how it evolved before he died," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The curious Mr Temple is the closest thing the UK has to a national music historian," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler, and Unwritten is "a nuanced and comprehensive biography; like most music docs, you have to care about the subject to care at all, but that's the only stumbling block." "A beautiful, evocative collage composed of concert footage, photographs, interviews and film clips, as well as interviews with people who knew him, the film is a rigorously thorough biography and an impassioned accolade," writes Carina Chocano. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Natalie Nichols talks with Temple. "It's a great story arc, and this alone makes the movie worth seeing, but Temple's filmmaking may frustrate more than it enlightens," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. Update, 11/4: Phil Nugent: When London Calling came out, just as the 70s were collapsing into the 80s (as Greil Marcus put it at the time), I remember there was a huge push by the rock press to pronounce it not just a good album, not just a great album, but the kind of cultural event of which new beginnings and significant shifts in the wind are made. It was much like the hype that had surrounded Apocalypse Now a few months earlier, and I think it came from the same impulse: a desire to write off what people were seeing as a dead-ended culture and kick-start something exciting and new. But it just didn't happen; Apocalypse Now wasn't as good as The Godfather and wasn't fated to be the same kind of blockbuster hit, and while London Calling had some terrific songs on it, it didn't signal, as some in the rock press wanted it to, the transformation of the Clash into the Beatles in terms of mass popularity, and the ability to affect a whole generation on a deep and visibly detectable level. Neither the movie nor the record headed off the conservative takeover of the culture at the pass; instead, both signalled that doing work in the popular arts that wasn't aimed straight at the lowest common denominator was now a niche activity, aimed at cultural consumers who saw themselves, even congratulated themselves, on their cultishness.
Posted by dwhudson at October 30, 2007 2:01 AM