Monday, May 07, 2007

A Story Told Round A Campfire

The Future Is Unwritten is Julien Temple’s documentary about the life of Joe Strummer, Strummer died in 2002 at the young age of 50, the lead singer of the Clash spent his early years constructing personas to distance himself from the perceived notions he feared his upbringing might give. The son of a diplomat and public schoolboy his early life was spent in a variety of exotic locations with his family following where his fathers work took them, he later became a figure rooted in London, in the shadow of Trellick Tower the Clash spoke of a London of divisions of class and race. Perhaps it took the son of a socialist father employed in the service of the British establishment, who had seen more of the world by secondary school age than many of his contemporaries might see in their lifetime, to eloquently narrate the world of the Seventies and Eighties.

The lead singer and main spokesman and driving force of The Clash eventually became an international figure playing to huge audiences around the world. Once in this orbit of world fame and international celebrity he attracted famous figures who saw themselves as counter or at least aside from popular culture, it is through the words of Strummer himself and his friends and acquaintances old and new, rich and poor, the famous and unknown which director Temple builds his story of his friend Strummer’s life. Later in Strummer’s life as a regular visitor to Glastonbury he conceived the idea of the ‘campfire’ around which likeminded and perhaps in some cases disparate and non-likeminded people can celebrate life and conversation, this is the construct by which many of the reminiscences of Strummer’s friends are displayed. With a backdrop of various locations including the nighttime skylines of London, New York and LA Strummers colleagues and friends give us an insight into the life of Strummer and the history of his music from his early west London squatter days in the band the 101ers through his time with The Clash and in later years his appearances in films and his world music flavoured gigs with his Mescaleros band.

Strummer was greatly admired and respected by his friends, colleagues and acquaintances but in many cases he ruthlessly left behind these people in search of greater fame and different experiences, in later years he returned to those he had discarded through his life and asked for a return to the things he had always been seeking, Joe Strummer wanted to be a man of the people, to produce music that questioned the status quo, about those left in the wake of the decisions and actions made by the political classes. Ultimately the fame that the Clash received would bring this in to question, how could you be a man of the people in dialogue with an audience in an 100,000 seat arena?.

After the collapse of the Clash Strummer found it difficult to reconcile both the success and fame he had received with the emptiness of life without the band. No longer touring or in the studio it took many aborted studio sessions, minor film roles and a return to the ideals of his past to bring him back from this creative void, finally returning to music and stage in a real sense with the Mescaleros. Through the film we hear voiceover segments and interviews with Strummer, we hear his broadcasts and the musical selections from his ‘London Calling’ radio show for the BBC World Service. The events of Strummer's life are covered in interviews with his early band members in the 101ers, Clash members Mick Jones and Topper Headon and a various assortment of film and art stars, session musicians, family and friends, these interviews and voicovers are complemented by Temple's well researched and cleverly edited use of film clips and news footage.

The resolution of this life story is with his return to past friends, Strummer's flaws, faults and failings are evident and explored with honesty in this film but with the films final moments we see the truth of his character, amidst the fashion, music and punk band posturing was a man who cared about people and was obsessed with ideas and creative life. Strummer’s life was an open minded search for a place where the creative, imaginative and marginalized can gather together and give the best of themselves, with the Clash he was a catalyst for a focussing of a generation's energy. In the dark and depressing days of the late Seventies and through the Thatcher inspired selfishness of the Eighties he shouted and rallied for a collective strength, for a world to come together through music and dialogue.

With the spirit of Joe Strummer looking on it is a charming thought that we can re-tell history and discuss our ideals for the future in many and varied ways, we can reconcile old friendships and create new ones and collectively we can celebrate life, conversation and creativity around a simple campfire.

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