When one finds oneself able to leave the house sans children for a night out, wasting the night on a crappy movie is pretty depressing. Ideally the date night movie should make you feel like edgy, hip single people, even if you never were before you had kids. With that in mind, I intend to make some recommendations in this column for movies that are smart without being very, very depressing, and evocative of clever youth. With any luck, it will also make you feel a little hot for your partner, which can't hurt.
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is not a 101 course. A certain amount of knowledge about the Clash is required before viewing. Julian Temple does not hold your hand and ease you in to the story.
Instead, he puts you around a bonfire, where you hear from other people who loved Joe Strummer. Temple really did set up bonfires in several locations and filmed Strummer's friends and prominent fans as they sat around exchanging memories and drinking. It's really lovely, which is not an adjective I would have expected to use in a review of a movie about Joe Strummer. There are no labels, so you have to figure out who the people are on your own. I am still not sure how I feel about this approach. I was pulled out of the story at times as I wracked my brains as to whether this person was an aged Sex Pistol or that person was a former wife of Strummer's. Still, it did make the movie feel intimate and informal, as if the viewer was eant to be sitting by one of the bonfires, too.
The bonfire interviews are intercut with Clash footage, photos, old interviews, the usual documentary stuff. There is a wild artistic bent to the assemblage. Images flow into and out of each other. Animations of Strummer's doodles and drawings that are used throughout to tell stories are clear influences on the style of the movie. They also reveal in their grooviness a hippie soul inside Strummer that was hidden well in his Clash years.
This hippie soul is revealed again in Strummer at the end of the movie, as he becomes more and more involved with raves staged in the British countryside, centered around giant bonfires. This, we see, was the inspiration for the structure of the film. Strummer talks about his love of the primal feeling he got sitting around these bonfires, how he felt connected to the humanity that came before him. After we ride through the cold, detached years of Clash superstardom with Strummer, we understand his craving for this basic human connection.
The music is, of course, excellent. There is plenty of great concert footage, with a very hot Strummer shouting into the mike. I came out of the movie humming "White Riot," and did plenty of head-bobbing throughout. My husband did, too, and began to look to me like his 19-year-old spiky-bleached-hair self again. It was an excellent date night.