Sound: Earlier this year a DVD called The Clash Live: Revolution Rock was released, providing a fairly superficial and brief look at the legendary punk band's career. While the focus was more upon The Clash's live performances throughout the years, the 2007 film The Future Is Unwritten: Joe Strummer delivers an informative and emotional look at one of the most intriguing frontmen in the past 20 years. From being a teenager with a distaste for authority to the happy, social man that he would become in his later years, Strummer is someone who struggled to be nothing but a genuinely relatable individual. Filmmaker Julian Temple (responsible for the famous 1980 Sex Pistols' film The Great Rock N' Roll Swindle) has pieced together a thorough, revealing look at Strummer via friends' personal accounts and conversations with Strummer himself.
The main feature on the DVD runs about 2 hours along and delves into every aspect of Strummer's life. Way before he became a symbol of a musical revolution, Strummer was a boy who was not that close with his father and haunted by the suicide of his brother. His friends from those early years relay some fascinating, usually humorous pictures of Strummer, who always seemed a bit of a free spirit. It was when The Sex Pistols exploded in England that things changed rapidly for the frontman, who realized that his blend of rockabilly wouldn't be cutting it anymore. Joining The Clash actually forced Strummer to part ways with many of his old pals, simply because punk musicians felt it necessary to separate themselves from those who weren't following the same path. Watching those jilted friends talk about Strummer's change in direction is some of the most moving footage.
As interesting as the first hour or so of The Future Is Unwritten is, it's the last half (in which Strummer is faced with inner conflict and eventual resolution) that truly captures who Strummer was in life. The Clash was such a phenomenon that Strummer felt almost guilty to be singing the same social-conscious songs that he performed during his days as a struggling musician. The break-up of The Clash and Strummer's search for himself in the years that follow are captivating. Strummer spent years figuring out just exactly what he wanted to do, and it's during that dark period that the singer finally is able to she'd the stigma of becoming famous through The Clash.
While there are snippets of performances here and there, the focus is on Joe Strummer as a human being. Temple wisely uses a campfire setting (imagery that Strummer felt strongly about) to conduct interviews with the vocalist's friends and colleagues, some of which include Bono, Matt Dillon, Flea, and Johnny Depp. It's not necessarily the big names that are the draw, however. It's when you hear his close, private friends talk about Strummer's unexpected reactions (he seemed genuinely excited to meet Monica Lewinsky or to simply sit around a campfire with a bohemian crowd) that you get the best understanding of the icon. // 10
Content: Temple has gone above and beyond in order to paint a complete picture of Strummer. It's hard to say how much time was spent gathering interviews for The Future Is Unwritten, but there is an amazing, diverse set of recollections from those in Strummer's circle. The director also doesn't shy away from talking with former Clash members, who all do seem fairly timid in comparison to the alpha dog demeanor of Strummer. The entire DVD package runs 222 minutes long, with over 100 minutes of interview footage and soundbites alone. The extras center around leftover interviews, but you'll also see the theatrical trailer and director's commentary. // 10
Production Quality: Temple put a lot of thought into what he was delivering, including symbolic images that run throughout the film. There is an obvious campfire theme, and the reasons behind it don't become apparent until the last moments (unless you've already done your homework on Strummer). The editors are extremely crafty for the early Strummer years, using seemingly random video footage that actually coincides really well with what was happening during that time. The one aspect of the film that is somewhat distracting is the fact that there the editors decided to not show the names of the people being interviewed. Most are recognizable or their stories reveal who exactly they are, but it does make for a few confusing moments. The Future Is Unwritten was a Sundance Film selection, however, and it's absolutely easy to understand why. The 2-hour film goes by very quickly, and Temple captures Strummer in a human, accessible light. // 9
Overall Impression: If you're a fan of The Clash, you need this DVD. Even if you didn't like punk in general, you'll likely gain a new respect and understanding of Strummer. This was a man who wanted to keep reinventing himself and his music, and although some of us didn't follow his later recordings, Strummer succeeded in his goal. More than that, Strummer comes across as a likeable individual who seemed to be enthusiastic to be alive. In some ways it's exhausting to watch Strummer's complete journey because there are so many stories to take in, but you can't help but be completely captivated. Just seeing the joy in his friends and family's faces as they talk about Strummer is a testament to the man's affect on those around him. // 10