The flames from the bonfires around which the participants in Julien Temple's loving filmic portrait Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten helps bring something more to their faces and words than the cold glare of a documentarian's prying camera. Warmth, heat, honesty... whatever it is, that factor is a large part of what makes this documentary such a rollicking, damn near inspirational film, since these people for the most part don't appear to be simply spitting words at an interviewer in the standard manner of a documentary, but rather conversing. They're not being interviewed, it seems, but just talking, telling stories around a fire to whomever happens to be listening (as one does), helping the crackling flames keep back the circle of night by remembering one of the century's most astounding and inexplicable talents.

A child of British diplomats who was always keenly embarrassed of his public school education and refers to himself as "a mouthy little git," Strummer was squatting in London with gypsies in the mid-1970s, busking for food money, playing in a pub band called the 101ers, and generally charming the pants off of everyone he met. It was a hand-to-mouth existence, but seemed like the kind of thing Strummer could do for years, living his beloved lowlife. Then he was being introduced to a trio of short-haired punks, The Clash was formed, and Strummer was on his way to rock stardom. He wasn't a singer, he was a yelper (as some fantastic footage of him laying down the vocal track for "White Riot" shows particularly well), a snaggletoothed smoker with a penchant for nonsensical lyrics and overblown statements. But in Strummer's work, with The Clash and afterwards, there always rang true a tone of absolute and unmistakable sincerity, sung and played with complete conviction each and every time. This was a man without irony, leading a band that set the model for all the conscious groups which would follow (tellingly, Bono is one of the interviewees here, talking about The Clash being his first concert, and in short the reason he got into music).

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