The Future Is Unwritten

Eamonn Kiernan rates the definitive biography of The Clash's Joe Strummer

The Future Is Unwritten is the much anticipated musical biography of Joe Strummer, charismatic lead singer/songwriter of quintessential punk band The Clash. Strummer passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2002 at the age of 50. Along with band partner Mick Jones, the other half of punk’s ‘Glimmer Twins’, Strummer was responsible for some of the most memorable music from the era which redefined the global importance of British music.

Directed by Julien Temple, (The Filth and the Fury, Glastonbury), The Future Is Unwritten tells the story of Strummer’s extraordinary life. We follow him from middle class public schoolboy by way of a stint as a dropout hippy squatter/pub rocker to the angry poet/philosopher who trained the spotlight of the punk generation’s directionless anger towards the failures of the British establishment.

Temple interweaves old Super 8 and cine footage from Strummer’s early life alongside his voice, coaxing us through a pulsating soundtrack of eclectic music originally broadcast on the BBC World Service to over 40 million listeners: that fact alone a tribute to Strummer’s global appeal.

Footage of classic performances from The Clash throughout their career is included in the film along with interviews from across the world as they stormed through Europe, America and Japan. The film unravels the building pressures which led to the demise of the band and deals with Strummer’s period in the wilderness as he tries to come to terms with the end of the group, and what he wants to do with his life from there on in. He finally finds peace of mind and a revived artistic expression with his new band The Mescaleros.

Strummer’s dilemma with The Clash was that he was making protest music that raged about life on the outside of society – unemployment, racism, militarism, social exclusion and the excesses of capitalism. Once the band became globally successful, that message ceased to have real meaning for him.

Strummer wanted the band to be successful, but he didn’t want it to turn into a new Led Zeppelin, playing to 100,000 people in American stadiums, but that’s exactly what they became. How could he believe in the message in the lyrics to ‘Career Opportunities’ whilst singing to rich middle-class American kids at Shea Stadium?

Temple tells this story via campfire interviews with Joe’s friends and family. The campfire was the lodestone of Strummer's philosophy - that making music and conversing whilst flames rise into the night sky and the embers fly touches a primeval race memory. It was a means by which we could all reach back to a way of experiencing life, how it was and how it could be again.

A plethora of the great and the good speak fondly of Strummer and recount how he affected their lives. To hear Hollywood actor Steve Buscemi say that he was quaking in his boots when he heard he was to work with Strummer on Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train puts Strummer’s charisma and the respect in which he was held into perspective. We hear from Johnny Depp, Bono, Matt Dillon and John Cusack amongst many others.

Temple has in The Future Is Unwritten created not only a fascinating insight into the man who was the angry voice of a generation but has also set the benchmark for future musical biographies. Not a frame of this two hour show is out of place. It is a seamless recreation of the man and the myth that is and was Joe Strummer. You will leave the theatre with a lump in your throat and quite possibly hankering for some campfire therapy of your own.

The Future Is Unwritten plays exclusively at Queen's Film Theatre from Friday June 22 - Thursday June 28