joe strummer: the future is unwritten

So I’ve been waiting to see this for I don’t know how long, and it HAS been a long time. This was supposed to be it, this was supposed to be THE definitive documentary about Joe. I bought tickets in advance, we got to the theater early and stood in line for half an hour to get a good spot. That kind of obsessive.

On the one hand I loved the unconventional approach taken, not yet another boring documentary with hours of headshots and voiceover gravely intoning the details of the subject’s childhood. And I knew who the players were, so it was fine for me. But all I could think was, what about the people who haven’t read every word written about John Mellor and the Clash? We’re documenting Joe’s legacy and we can’t be bothered with a small unobtrusive caption identifying who the person was? I mean, ya know, I *think* that was Bobby Gillespie, but I wasn’t sure, and would it have not been punk rock to let people in on the secret?

And maybe that was it, but the whole “punk is a secret world only for the insiders” ended a long time ago, especially for Joe. The whole point of the campfires was inclusion, and Joe was INCLUSIVE. Wouldn’t it have been meaningful for people to know that Mick Jones was doing the interview from the same counsel block (if not the same apartment) that his grandmother lived in, with its view of the Westway, the ledge he purportedly wrote “London Calling” on? Why deprive someone of that if they don’t know it? People weren’t born knowing punk rock legends, they learn them. Why not teach a whole new generation and the generations after this one?

Even if the film wasn’t meant as definitive, but more of an oral history, I’ll point out that none of the major players are getting any younger. It’s hard to get them all in one place and it may never happen again. Just the most basic of conventional documentary standards would have served Joe’s legacy well, without choking on conventionality.

The campfires. They became so important to Joe, but we don’t learn this until the end of the movie, which is filmed from the vantage point of someone looking into the campfire, not as a member of the campfire, another thing that seemed exclusionary and foreign and, well, not Strummer, ya know? I felt excluded, and I consider myself a distant member of the tribe, the girl who skipped her senior prom to see the Clash at Bond’s Casino. The boyfriend, who values Joe’s place in the rock pantheon, felt that even more strongly: “Okay, I get it, we’re not invited.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it but for two different people approaching the movie from the two places people are likely to approach this work, it seemed a valid sample size.

I don’t know why Simonon wasn’t part of it. If it was his ego, get the fuck over it already. If it was the ego of the filmmakers, I don’t even know what to say. Even Mick showed up and was, I felt, reasonably honest about things. Not, of course, that I pretend to really know what went on – only the men involved will ever truly know – but I felt like he stood up and honored his friend and their band and their work with his honesty.

Finally, a touch of brilliance to overlay Joe’s BBC broadcasts. It was like he was there, and had never left.

It just could have been so much more.