Review: ‘Future’ captures vivid punk era

The Clash has been described as the Sex Pistols with a high-school education, but that’s unfair — mostly to Joe Strummer. He was bigger than that. As a rock music phenomenon and especially as a manifestation of front man/songwriter Strummer’s world view, the Clash is much more significant than Strummer’s tongue-in-cheek assessment of himself as a “punk rock warlord.”

You don’t have to be a fan of the Clash, or even of the late-‘70s/early ‘80s pop music scene, to be thrilled by what director Julien Temple shows us in his new documentary, “Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.” In his typical shotgun montage style, Temple paints a hurly-burly portrait of the era — riots in the streets, mosh pits, military run amok, Thatcherism and squats full of punks — all built around the enigmatic Strummer, who died in 2002.

The son of a career diplomat, Strummer (née John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey) spent his youth in Egypt, Mexico, Germany and various African countries before going to English public school (“I was a mouthy little git”) and the inevitable art college in London. His exposure to the world, particularly the Third World, had an obvious effect on his career, as did his early taste in music: Elvis, Stones, Woody Guthrie, Bukka White, U Roy. So did the middle-class Strummer’s identification with working people in class-conscious England. It was a short step from the squats to “getting some words going” as singer and guitarist with band mates Paul Simonon, Nick “Topper” Headon, and Mick Jones in the Clash, their answer to the Sex Pistols. “That’s what was so good about punk,” explains an onlooker. “If you were ugly, you were in.”

The Clash’s music wasn’t especially revolutionary, but Strummer’s writing was. Songs like “London’s Burning,” “I’m So Bored with the USA,” “Police and Thieves,” and a cover of the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” Strummer & Co. brought a political edge to punk. The band purposely connected with black people, anti-Nazis, and popular liberation struggles in general (“the people who were living next door”). “Rock the Casbah” became a huge hit in America — and later was adopted as a battle song by U.S. troops in the first Gulf War, much to Strummer’s chagrin.

Director Temple, who made the two definitive Sex Pistols films, “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” and “The Filth and the Fury,” packs his ode to the Clash with such admiring talking heads as Martin Scorsese, Bono, Joe Ely, Matt Dillon, Anthony Kiedis, and Jim Jarmusch (Strummer appeared in Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” and other movies). But the singer's true constituency was folks sitting around a campfire, a device Temple uses to nice effect in the film. Joe Strummer was the classic bohemian.

CREDITS

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Three and a half stars

Starring Joe Strummer, Nick Headon, Mick Jones, Bono

Directed by Julien Temple

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Folks wave from the side of a Muni cable car as it heads down Powell Street after cable car service returns from a 16-month COVID absence on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s cable cars return after 16-month absence

San Francisco’s cable cars are back, and they’re free for passengers to… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

Steven Buss, left, and Sachin Agarwal co-founded Grow SF, which plans to produce election voter guides offering a moderate agenda. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Grow SF: New tech group aims to promote moderate ideals to political newcomers

Sachin Agarwal has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. But the… Continue reading

A great white shark swims off Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. The term “shark attack” is slowly disappearing, at least as a phrase used by researchers and officials who have been rethinking how to describe the moments when sharks and humans meet. (Benjamin Lowy/The New York Times)
Don’t call them ‘shark attacks,’ scientists say

By Alan Yuhas New York Times On the beaches of Northern California,… Continue reading

Lindsey Lee Lugrin, left, and Isha Mehra in their office, on July 28, 2021. They have created an app where online influencers can share information in a collective effort to raise their pay. (Amanda Hakan/The New York Times)
The app with the unprintable name: Empowering creators

‘This is about the future of work’

Most Read