SIFF Film Review: The Future is Unwritten

It must be incredibly difficult to make a documentary about your friend. Especially if your friend died reasonably young and happened to be one of the Founding Fathers of a musical movement. Julien Temple’s “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” is remarkably objective and concise for being a touching tribute to such an important man. However, it still, perhaps unavoidably so, falls into the trappings of a documentary made by a friend. It's just too long. The good news is that is my ONLY criticism of this film. Everything else is just nitpicking. The film covers Joe Strummer's entire life from his childhood with his brother and his foray at boarding school to dealing with his brother's suicide and how that contributed to the man he became. It covers the quiet period between the end of the Clash and the beginning of The Mescaleros that has previously been a bit of a mystery. It ends, of course, with Strummer's untimely death and implicates the full extent of why this was a tragedy. The man simply had so much more to do.

The Clash is absolutely my favorite band. They are also one of the most documented bands and definitely the most documented founding punk band besides, perhaps, The Ramones. It wasn't as easy back then to just carry a camera around with you so it must have been pretty clear to everyone that Joe Strummer was a big deal. What he was doing was important and needed to be filmed. Much of this footage must have been filmed by Temple himself because I have seen every Clash documentary I can get my hands on and I only recognized a handful of the shots in this movie. The only narration is from the man himself, taken primarily from a radio broadcast he recorded. The film is filled with interviews from the people who were close to him, most of which were shot around a roaring camp fire in several cities. The way the interviews were shot, with the people who loved Joe gathered together around a warm campfire, really illustrates how much of an influence he really had on everyone who he touched. This is evident even before you learn that the campfires are a tribute to an ongoing event that Joe had organized himself.

Temple also ignored another documentary film staple. Titling his interviewees with their names. You either recognize an interviewee (the most recognizable of whom is Bono) or you learn who they are through the stories they are telling. If you never learn who they are (the Sex Pistol's Steve Jones is quite a bit more bloated than his skinny young counterpart), it doesn't really matter. The film isn't about them. It's about Joe. His story has been told before and will, thankfully, be told again. But Julien Temple's telling of it is perfect.

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