Strummer and Once

This week I’ve been lucky enough to make it along to Newtown Dendy to see two music related films. The first was Strummer: The future is unwritten – a documentary by Julien Temple, probably best known for his pair of films on the Sex Pistols – The Great Rock and Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury. After the film, Temple took part in a Q&A session.

The film follows the rise and fall (and reprise) of Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, and later in life Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. I knew some of the more classic Clash’s songs, and vague bits and pieces about their history. I knew that Mick Jones, Clash guitarist, went on to form Big Audio Dynamite. But that was about it.

The archival footage in the film is amazing. Temple was a friend of Joe’s – and was part of the scene that gave birth to The Clash. During the Q&A we learnt that Temple lived in a squat near Joe, and helped to sneak the band into his film school at the time to record early Clash material.

The film flicks between this archival footage and interviews with people that knew Joe, from the early days in the 101s through to his final band, the Mescularos, and is punctuated throughout with segments from Joe’s World Service radio program, London Calling. What’s cool is that for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, all of the people interviewed had unfamiliar faces – they are the people who Joe grew up with, people like your next door neighbour. You do get an insight into his history and up-bringing, and some of the experiences that influenced his move into the punk movement.

The odd celebrity then appears, seeming almost out of place: Bono, Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Steve Buscemi, Matt Dillon, Johnny Depp, John Cusack and Jim Jarmusch all make appearances. At the Q&A session, Temple apologised when asked about the stars in the film. Not quite sure why, but perhaps he also felt they were out of place in telling Strummer’s story.

Through the film I got a real sense that Strummer had a kind of artistic rebirth – starting in London slums and joining The Clash, then joining the rave circuit in a tent around campfires then rekindling his musical passion over a decade after The Clash imploded.

Overall the doco was really inspiring and fascinating, but despite its depth I still don’t feel I really know “Strummer” all that well. But I certainly feel like I now have a little insight into what shaped his life and brought him to become the star he was – as much as any film can do that I suppose. I’d definitely rate it 4/5 stars.

The other film I saw last night was Once, featuring The Frames‘ Glen Hansard and Czech songstress Marketa Irglova. I have to admit, going into the film, I wasn’t familiar with Hansard’s work with The Frames, nor Irglova’s work as a solo artist and with Hansard. I’d read good reviews of the movie, and Dave at work had highly recommended it to me, so was keen to check it out.

By the time I saw the film I’d forgotten the plot line from the review I’d read and only had Dave’s comment that it was a loose musical of sorts – having seen the film I now know what he means – so I was pretty much going in without much expectation.

The film follows an unnamed “guy” (I didn’t realise he was unnamed until the credits – “Guy” and “Girl” are how the leads Hansard and Marketa Iglova are credited) as he meets “girl” when he is busking. They discover a shared interest in music and start writing together as we learn more about their lives.

There is a loose romance that is apparent between the two characters, but always at a distance. The plot is very loose – pretty much joining the various musical pieces together. We follow them on their journey to record a record and returning to their previous lost loves.

The film walks a fine line between becoming a naff parody and naive gem, but luckily falls on the right side of those two extremes. The music is great, written and performed by the two leads – I am keen to get the soundtrack after seeing the film. It’s a delightful film – another I’d recommend. 4/5 stars.