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As the front man of the Clash from 1977 onwards, Joe Strummer changed people's lives forever. Four years after his death, his influence reaches out around the world, more strongly now than ever before. In "The Future Is Unwritten", from British film director Julien Temple, Joe Strummer is revealed not just as a legend or musician, but as a true communicator of our times. Drawing on both a shared punk history and the close personal friendship which developed over the last years of Joe's life, Julien Temple's film is a celebration of Joe Strummer - before, during and after the Clash. Written by
IFC First Take
A must for fans and perhaps just about good enough for the casual viewer
The majority of the talking heads that are used to frame this film have been captured outdoors next to a bonfire, brazier or something similar there is a reason for it and it is something that you should bear in mind when considering watching this film. The device is a good one and what it does is take sound-bites that could have just felt a bit like scripted puff and turns them into reminiscing round a fire with friends. This fits with the "bigger" comments from band members etc, who do feel like they are sitting reminiscing about the old days but with this comes a problem. You see, the entire film has embraced this approach the approach that we are among friends, people who were all there, know all the stories and love telling them and hearing them even if they have heard them many times before. Not that there is anything wrong with this as an idea because it does offer the potential for an engagingly personal film that perhaps risks inaccuracy via recollection but gets a lot of passion and such in its place.
Unfortunately when taken to an extreme this does risk alienating the casual viewer who is too young to remember and is using the film to fill in them on what they have missed. With this audience sector (which I am in) Julian Temple seems disinterested, even to the point where he doesn't put any captions on the talking heads to tell us who they are. This is irritating because it is hard to shake the feeling that you are looked down on by Temple and perhaps a bit unwelcome as a viewer and it is not a feeling that I ever shook. However, having said that, the personal reflections and observations do help counter this because they do make for an engaging film in terms of feeling if not information. The majority of the footage is "home" video and newsreel footage from the times in question and this is mostly edited together really well to inform and shore up the contributions and feel.
It is not totally successful though even if it was a big improvement on Temple's film on Glastonbury. It doesn't inform a lot and it is so personal that it is hard to always stay with it whenever you do feel like you are being excluded if you're not in the in-crowd. Ironically though, while he seeks this feel at the expense of names on the contributors, he is fine with having famous faces with almost nothing to say in there OK it at least gave me people I could instantly put a name to but otherwise I'm not sure what Cusack, Bono, Depp and others added that anyone with The Clash greatest hits CD on their shelf. Not sure why he bothered to put footage of no relevance in either (such as Animal Farm clips) as it just cluttered it and made it feel like he was trying to be creative by doing what any arty film student would with montages of stock footage.
The Future is Unwritten is an engaging but flawed film that will mostly appeal to those that "were there, man" rather than the casual viewer. The passion and personal feel to the film at least counters the "if you're name's not down you're not coming in" feel that it all has but never totally and, while Temple does produce an interesting structure and feel, it doesn't work as well as he would like to think. A must for fans and perhaps just about good enough for the casual viewer.
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