on December 26, 2002
This DVD is probably the most bittersweet Christmas present that I've ever gotten. Ever since the resurgence of Clashmania a couple of years ago, I'd been trying restlessly to get my hands on a good copy of "Westway to the World" -- first by asking an old friend to tape the abbreviated premiere off VH1 for me while I was out of the country, then later by paying a good amount for a decent bootleg VHS copy once I realized that Sony wouldn't be putting out the full version anytime soon. Well, now here it is -- uncut, official and with all the whistles and bells that DVD technology allows. But suddenly, getting my hands on it finally doesn't seem like so much of a triumph anymore. . . .
As if it even needed to be said at all, we've just lost an amazing musician and, by all indications, a fine human being in Joe Strummer, which makes it more than a shame that "Westway to the World" will likely come to be regarded as his final word on The Clash. But it's even more unfortunate for his death to overshadow the documentary because this is a work that stands very well enough on its own. Joe, Mick, Paul and (to a lesser extent) Topper all have worthwhile stories to tell here, even if those stories tend to center more around emotional truth rather than hard facts.
The first three treat the origins of The Clash as a sort of happy accident, but there's still a certain sense, threaded through their accounts of their childhood and art school years and the grayness of '70s London, that The Clash is something that WILL happen, if only because there's probably no other way out. Topper is fairly skeptical and noncommittal when he arrives, and his role is somewhat understated by his drug use and its obvious toll on his health. But his role's borne out quite well by the live concert clips. (True, "Westway" never shows The Clash performing a complete song live, but the clips are still awesome enough to get me on my feet every time I see them.) The main details behind the band's disintegration -- Topper's drug problems, the wedge between Mick and the rest of the band and the exhaustion of moving too fast for too long -- actually come only at about the last five minutes of the documentary, which brings it home how dizzying it must have been to come so far just to fall apart. For me, though, the last two or three minutes have always been the hardest of "Westway" to watch, as the regret and hardened hindsight comes down and "Sean Flynn" and "Straight to Hell" make things even more somber from the background. But now, there's the added poignancy when Joe mentions the absolute importance of keeping the "chemical mixture" going between people no matter what it takes. When he winces and turns away from the camera, we know now that, whether we'd wanted it or not, the mixture really is never coming back.
The bonus materials may be a bit easier to bear. The "Clash on Broadway" film is basically 22 minutes of surviving archive footage from the band's extended residence at Bonds in June of 1981. Besides the live snippets (their version of "This is Radio Clash" is particularly rousing), the footage is really held together by segments of an off-the-cuff interview with Topper, who probably says more in this than he does in the whole documentary. I found the footage interesting for the way that it shows bits of what New York City was like back then, as well as how much it must have changed ever since.
In the bonus interview footage, we see the band members all go into some of their stories in a bit more depth, without having them turned into the reconstituted soundbites of the documentary. This is good because the stories show off a bit more of each band member's personality and focus within the band. Topper seems very humbled and goes into sometimes heartbreaking detail about his struggles and failures. ("I lost the plot" almost sounds like his mantra.) Mick is cool and laid-back and talks about the music that influenced him, as well as his early experiences in the London SS. Paul is probably the funniest of the bunch, and he tells a bit more about the hi-jinks that he and the band got into (including those that happened while Lester Bangs was on tour with them). As for Joe, he talks about the early punk years and the often desperate climate of them, and he sounds like the type of guy who'd have told the stories right to you if you'd asked.
In the end, I can't watch this DVD and believe -- honestly believe -- that Joe Strummer is dead now. That may still be the shock and the incredulity talking, of course, but somehow I don't think so. His reflections just seem too fresh and in the moment, his onstage persona just seems too much in the throes, and even his visage as an older man still seems to say, "Oi, it's not over yet, mate."
Perhaps I just believe that when a person's life and work are real enough, and they still mean something important years down the line, then it's almost as though the person never really leaves us. But if it really is true, and Joe Strummer really does have to leave us, then watching "Westway to the World," as well as listening to as much of the music as you can handle (and then a little bit more), are probably the least painful ways to say good-bye.
on January 8, 2003
It's with a heavy heart that I sit here and try to put into words what The Clash's music has meant to me ever since I bought an import 7" of "White Riot" b/w "1977" back in, uh, 1977, so at the risk of being accused of playing I-was-a-punk-before-you-were-a-punk, let's concentrate on this amazing documentary put together by ex-DJ Don Letts, punk rock insider and the man who purportedly introduced the London punk scene to dub. This past Christmas, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the DVD age with the purchase of a DVD player and this, my first DVD. Letts unveils a plethora of crystal-clear live footage, none of which I even knew existed, and most of which looks like it was shot yesterday. Thankfully, the majority of said footage concentrates on the band pre-"Combat Rock," before they began to lose the plot and while they really were The Only Band That Mattered. Weaving the live material with band interviews that are actually interesting and compelling (what a concept!), Letts tells the story of a bunch of regular Joes (no pun intended) that on any given night, might well have been the best damn band on the planet and a group of guys many of the naive among us (myself included) felt were going to change the world. The interviews reveal Joe Strummer to be, not surprisingly, the master storyteller in the group, Paul Simonon to be not as quiet as many of us thought, Mick Jones to have dental work rivalling that of Mike Meyers as Austin Powers, and, sadly, Topper Headon as a mere shadow of his former self, barely intelligible most of the time. Bonus features include a Letts-shot featurette, "The Clash On Broadway," additional interview footage, photos, a discography and many other things I'm still too technically inept to describe with any degree of accuracy. If you're looking for a testimonial as to why you should shell out the long green for this DVD, all I can say is that the first time I watched it, I never moved once and I'm not even sure I remembered to breathe. Highly recommended for not only Clash fans, but music lovers in general, and a glowing testimonial to the beautiful noise made by a bunch of ragged louts with guitars and amplifiers and how that noise can change the lives of so many.
on November 8, 2002
As a HUGE clash fan since the late '70s that simply can't get enough of them, I must admit that the material that made it onto this DVD is fantastic and totally compelling. That said, I can't help but be quite disappointed that there isn't significantly more of the (obviously available) live concert footage. The tidbits we get are great, but why not more?
To me, the ride these guys were on from '76 thru '82 was really special. They were way ahead of everyone else and churning out high-quality material as rapidly as the Beatles in their prime. So why is it that their stage performances (unlike there studio sessions) remain on shelves somewhere. I don't care about the quality of it - it's [...] historic!!
The documentary aspect is fine, but how likely am I to watch it again... it's questionable. If they had added (maybe on a second disc) a show or partial shows, I'd be replaying it regularly. FYI there is no full song played live on this DVD, just short pieces. I spliced together all of the concert footage from "Rude Boy" 20 years ago so I would have something when I needed a fix - and this DVD is just marginally better, from the live music aspect.
If such a DVD is coming, I apologize and take this all back - I'll buy it the day it's released!
on November 19, 2003
Like the great rock documentaries The Kids Are Alright and The Filth and the Fury, Westway to the World is th story of a band (the Clash) told by those who were in the band (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Topper Headon, and Paul Siminon). The Clash probably stayed together two years too many (they hung up their spurs in 1985), but their peak years from 1977-1981 were well worth it. Westway captures the exuberance of the punk period into which the Clash thrust themselves in 1977, and documents their own journey up til the departure of Jones (the McCartney to Strummer's Lennon) in the early Eighties.
I picked this up in the days after Joe Strummer's passing in December 2002, and I can safely say this is a fine tribute (albeit released before his untimely death). Strummer was easily the most lucid of the original punks (only John Lydon rivals him for candor and interesting insights into the era), and his interview segments are worth the price of admission alone.
The other band members aren't forgotten, though, and each details his own musical background and evolution in the band. Once the film is over, you find it sad to know that 1.) the band can never truly reunite and 2.) there will never be a band that can match them for expanding the range of punk.
So let the kiddies have their Avrils and their Blink-182. The Clash were the real deal, and this film captures just how damn special they really were. RIP Joseph Mellors
on January 4, 2004
The Clash's "Westway to the World" documentary directed by Don Letts is one of the most intresting pieces of rock film since Paul McCartney did his tribute to Buddy Holly back in 1986. What I found so intresting about this documentary was how it was able to capture The Clash for who they were; a great live band with a message. Politically speaking, every Clash fan knows how far to the left they were; this film provides us more with the attitude that they took in order for the song to be written. It is also able to capture one of Joe Strummer's last interviews.
The Clash have, and will always be considered fraternal twins to The Beatles. The Marxist song-writing and their powerful delivery is probably the way John Lennon's solo career would had developed. Hell, this IS the band he wishes he was in.
My hat goes off to the way this film was presented. It wasn't just a one camera ordeal but creative slides of fascinating filmmaking. All four members also spoke their truth of the band, and why it had to fall apart. This compilation is for the die hard rock fan that wants to know why rock music (or any genre) still matters. It also helps us understand why the ability to perform a song can affect so many people. Liberal or Conservative, left or right.
on July 4, 2002
This is positively the GREATEST music documentary I have ever seen. This feature has no fluffing or ego stroking what so ever - just an honest retelling of the rise and much too early demise of this great band - told by the band themselves and not some narrator. The final chapter of this DVD, with the band members summing up their feelings of the whole situation including Joe Strummer fighting back a sob is a true display of the rawness that this documentary shows. VH1 should take a note from Don Letts - this is the way music documentaries should be done!
on July 6, 2004
There was an honest reviewer somewhere here that described this as too little footage and too much interviewing, especially from one camera angle. That's a dead-on assessment. I might also throw in the fact that the individual snippets of live footage are woefully incomplete. Just as I am about to REALLY get into the track, BAM, here we are back to watching Topper Headon's and Joe Strummer's faces sit there unanimated describing his heroin addiction for 10 minutes, or someone describe their trip to Jamaica, or so-and-so sit there and tell me such-and-such. It's almost annoying to wonder how a documentary on the greatest band on earth could be so flat-out BORING. And I'm not a cinematographer, I don't know how it's done successfully, I don't know what it takes to make an UN-boring documentary on the Clash... I just know that as a viewer, and a fan, this ain't it.
And as a DVD, and by now we've come to expect a few more extras other than just the run-of-the-mill film, this one is hurtin'. There are NO Clash videos here, not even the fantastic "This Is Radio Clash", which is one of the better videos of any punk band in my opinion. We can't even get the entire freakin' "Rock The Casbah" video, for cryin' out loud, before it is interrupted by (you guessed it) more talking-head interviewing. The "extras" boil down to the "Clash on Broadway" rockumentary, which stinks and is pretty much used throughout the "Westway" film itself, so you ain't getting anything decent extra. Not a ripoff, but not a goldmine either.
Seriously, people. I am not going to throw myself behind a documentary flick or DVD simply because (a) the band kicked serious ass, or (b) the lead singer, who happened to be one of the most important figures in my life through his music, died a sad and sudden death very recently. I say The Clash deserve way better than this, and if this is all we're ever going to get, so be it, but I ain't liking it. And if there's one thing I learned from all those countless hours of Clash (and other punk) listening, it's not to be satisfied with being spoon-fed.
on January 12, 2003
You will love this dvd. It's not just old geezers. It's a vibrant band captured in their prime.
The Clash, who I first heard and saw perform while I was in college, profoundly affected me. They still do. It's funny, a lot of older, jaded people will tell you that you will not retain your idealism, and that you will sell out and the music you now love will not mean much to you later on. Don't believe them. The Clash are as important to me now as they were then, and I don't believe that I've sold out or become jaded. For me, their music and lives helped provide a blueprint for dealing with the contradictions that come with growing older. I listen to a lot of new music and am not stuck in some nostalgiac cocooon. Anger, irony, curiosity, and humor are every bit as valid at age 42 as at age 19. I think that the divisions of age and race and musical purism are for closed-minded people. If you have an open mind, check out this dvd and don't let anyone tell you that you can't grow older and still maintain your ideals, enthusiasm for life, and dignity. Most important, this dvd is a lot of fun to watch.
on March 23, 2007
I'm a huge Clash fan. I've been one since 1978, and I can't begin to tell you how much I've been wanting to get a documentary dvd on the only band that matters. So, I was excited to see this available, as well as the other dvd that highlights their videos. I bought both at the same time. Westway to the World could have been so much more. So very, very much more. While I really liked the interviews with the band members and the documentary itself, it was just too short. The lack of adequate live footage of them performing was very irritating. I kept waiting to be blown away, but it didn't happen. I was also disappointed that there weren't more "outside" sources commenting on the band. Surely the producers could have found ten to fifteen people who were associated with the band that could have rounded out what they had. I found myself going to the extra features, but they were pretty lame, as well. It's too bad that this piece may become the definitive dvd on the band, as it is just not enough. They deserve more. Joe deserves more. I find this dvd to smack of commercialism, something Epic records put out to take our money and cash in on the band.
on December 8, 2003
In WESTWAY TO THE WORLD director Don Letts takes footage of old Clash shows and works them around interview footage with the band members. The result is a riveting documentary, sure to please Clash fans, both casual and diehard. From their origins in mid-1970's England to their worldwide fame and breakup, it's all here.
Even the backing music, during the interviews, is music by The Clash. "Guns of Brixton," "Bankrobber," and other songs play behind Joe Strummer's resonant baritone as he describes the band's trials and tribulations, war stories and the stories behind the songs, and these songs sound great. Chapters describe landmark Clash shows, from dingy clubs in their early days to Shea Stadium in NYC during the height of the popularity.
Interviews with Joe Strummer yield amazing lines, which seem to put everything about music and life in perspective. Topper Headon seems to nearly cry as he recalls his addiction and exit from the group. Strummer's recall of an encounter with Paul Simonon (bass) and Mick Jones (guitar and vocals) in which he thought he might have to punch Mick then "leg it"? HILARIOUS. Why didn't he punch the beefier Simonon? Paul looked quite "tasty," said Joe, and we know that Strummer didn't fancy a fight with him. I laughed so hard I almost choked on my soup. The concert footage on this DVD will make you want to sing, and the interviews will make you want to laugh and cry.
The Clash was such a great band. This DVD is for everybody who ever thought so.
Joe Strummer, Rest in Peace.