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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Future Is Unwritten
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2008
There have been several movies made about Joe Strummer but Julien Temple's is unique in its personal touch. Temple was a friend of Strummer's for many years and so had insight into the man behind the music that many people did not have. The movie consists of Joe's life story as told by many friends, acquaintances, fellow artists and others who knew him or were influenced by him over the years. Amazing music, very well put-together, and just a great story about a man who was a huge influence on rock & roll and politics during his time on this earth. Joe was taken from the world too early when he died unexpectedly in December 2002 and after watching this movie one can only wonder what more he would have accomplished. The opening scene of Joe singing "White Riot" a capella in the studio is complemented by the closing scene of Joe and Mick Jones reuniting on stage 20+ years later to perform the same song...even though they were old (and Mick a little bald!) they still ROCKED. If you like the Clash, you must see this movie!!
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2008
Amazing that it's been almost 6 years since his death. We all have our memories of Joe, and that collective, communal spirit is a major point in Julien Temple's documentary. You'll see dozens of folks interspersed throughout the piece, each giving remembrances around campfires. Interestingly, no one is identified via subtitle on screen, so you'll see everyone from Zander Schloss to Johnny Depp if you pay attention (doubtlessly part of the 1-world, human feeling the movie goes to great lengths to portray, from the best of us to the least of us we are all in this together.) The haunting quality of Joe's voice doing the primary voice-over narration for the entirety of the film is palpable. And fortunately Temple has unearthed scads of rare, quality footage including home movies, TV interviews, and even reel-to-reel from Joe's squatting days, which means we're not dealing with the same warmed-over Westway footage for the umpteenth time. The whole film is tremendously rich, crackling with energy & vitality, but also comfortable. This is the remembrance we've wanted (needed?) since the night he left, and for me it erases the bad taste of a dozen soulless cash-in "documentaries" that have been forced upon us over the intervening years. It's a fitting coda to Joe's life: not maudlin, not excessively mournful, not ridiculously celebratory. Just a bunch of folks sitting around relating what he meant to them, replete with ample historical context, with the man himself emceeing the procession. Joe meant a lot to a lot of people, he deserves this fitting (and very human) tribute.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2009
I can listen to Joe and be ok, but I have a hard time watching him in action since he's gone. We were friends for a long time. I conveniently missed it when it was in the theater, avoided purchasing it when it first came out, because I thought it would just be too heartbreaking to watch....but don't be a dope like me! IT's a wonderful film, my family and I watched it Christmas Eve. It's priceless to see home movies from when he was a kid, and see his parents. You see him as "Woody" and with his little girls, and just about every aspect of his personality, from the foulest of tempers, with due cause I might add...to just how gentle he really was underneath all the angst. There's great concert footage, great interviews around the campfires, which was one of his things...People tend to think about Joe for the things he said, they don't always get that the best thing about him was the way he listened. I could talk about Joe till the cows come home, but I'll spare you all. If you're a Joe fan, or a Clash fan in general, you MUST have this film, IT is the quintessential Joe film. I've always enjoyed Mr. Temple's work, and with this, he's outdone himself, and I'd like to thank him for putting it out there for us.

You should also check out Dick Rude's film Let's Rock Again, it's an entirely different type of film, also very touching and a good record of Joe's work with the Mescalero's, and thanks to those guys for getting him out of the wilderness and back on stage, and to Dickie for getting it all down!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2009
On December 22, 2002, at the ripe young age of 50, John Graham Mellor - better known as Joe Strummer, co-founder, lyricist, rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the group The Clash - died, rather prosaically, of a heart attack. I say "prosaically" because one would reasonably have envisioned a somewhat more "exotic" and "respectable" end for a punk rock artist of Joe Strummer`s caliber. Yet, perhaps it's not quite so strange after all, for like many of his musical contemporaries, Strummer lived his life in the fast lane, perhaps burning so intensely for such a brief period of time that his battered and overstretched heart simply couldn`t keep up with all the demands placed on it after awhile (actually, we`re told he suffered from a congenital heart condition of which he had no knowledge and which could have taken his life at any time).

Whatever the cause of his demise, the documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten" provides a compelling and really quite exhaustive look into the life and career of this punk music legend. The movie starts at the beginning with Mellor's birth in Ankara, Turkey, to a father who was a British diplomat and a mother who was a nurse. He had a generally unhappy childhood, being whisked from one country to another before eventually being deposited in a British boarding school, seeing very little of his parents during the seven year period in which they were living abroad.

The movie then goes on to chronicle the death of his older brother by suicide; Mellor's enrollment in art college (where he changed his name to Woody and formed his first band, The Vultures); his time living as a squator in some abandoned row houses in West London with a group of fellow musicians with whom he formed his second band, the 101's; and his eventual turning away from Rockabilly and towards punk when The Sex Pistols opened for his group one night and forever altered Mellor's view of what music could be and do. By this time he had already changed his name a second time - now he was to be known as Joe Strummer - and had become extremely adept at writing lyrics and playing rhythm guitar.

It was at this point in 1976 that he essentially abandoned his former friends and hooked up with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky Headon to form the band The Clash. The film then records the rise of that group, emphasizing the driving energy and social commentary of its music, as Strummer, through his lyrics, boldly took on the political and military establishment, decrying civil injustice and examining the very nature of authority itself. In fact, the movie makes it clear that the punk movement itself represented a revolt not just against society as a whole but against previous styles of music and fashion - and even one's old friends and way of life, including, in Strummer's case, his pre-Clash band mates, many of whom agreed to be interviewed for this film.

In the latter stages, the movie explores the paradox of success and celebrity, especially for performers who base their art on railing against the very things they find themselves endorsing in the end: namely, conformity, commercialism, fame and self-indulgence. For The Clash this was exemplified by the "sellouts" of going to America, of achieving international acclaim with their 1979 album "London Calling," and of writing "hit" songs (most notably, of course, "Rock the Casbah"). This accelerating artistic ambiguity led to increased personal tension among the members of the band and the eventual dissolution of the group. Towards the end of his life, Joe turned to marriage and fatherhood and a career in the film industry both as an actor and a composer. But any attempt to revive his career as a singer, at least at first, ended in failure - some would suggest a failure largely calculated and imposed by the man himself. Yet, in his final years, a much more tranquil and mellow Joe began to emerge, managing to make "peace" between the hippies and the punkers by establishing outdoor music fests - affectionately labeled "Joe's Campfires" - to help bridge the gap. And, as an appropriate finale to his life, he embarked on a well-received tour with his last band, The Mescaleros.

Director Julien Temple has put together a surprisingly dense and visually imaginative film, one that is heavily reflective of the turbulent times in which it is set. In addition to interviews with former lovers and friends of Strummer, the movie provides generous helpings of file footage and home movies, as well as clips from films like "If...," "Animal Farm," "1984," etc. whose subject matters parallel elements of Joe's life and the era in which he lived. Temple also frequently interjects into the narrative animated versions of cartoons Joe himself drew over the years. Moreover, a number of familiar faces - Bono, Matt Dillon, Steve Buscemi, John Cusack, Jim Jarmusch, Courtney Love (who appeared with Strummer in the movie "Straight to Hell"), even Johnny Depp in full Jack Sparrow regalia - stop by to throw their two-cents-worth in as to how profoundly they were influenced by Joe and the music of the Clash. And, of course, above it all there is the music...

But the true coup here is getting Joe himself to comment posthumously on his own life, thanks to the ready availability of interviews he gave at crucial moments during his career. This allows us to hear the man relate his own story in his own words. It may be a story that ends sadly, but not before Joe seems to find some genuine peace in his life. And, seriously, how many documentaries about a rock star can one say THAT about?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2008
Got this in the mail and popped it in the DVD player almost immediately. What a fantastic tribute to such a remarkable man. Joe's been just about my biggest hero for a long time and I was moved to tears when I had heard that he'd died. Temple's documentary brought out the man in all of his complexity and doesn't shy away from presenting him as both a flawed and yet truly inspiring person. By the time I'd finished the movie I'd been brought to tears again contemplating our having lost such a decent and humane artist. Musicians, artists and people the world over, but particularly in America, could learn a lot by viewing this film and taking a cue from Joe Strummer. Thank you Mr. Temple for making such a wonderful movie and recognizing such a wonderful man.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Future Is Unwritten is easily one of the best music documentaries and bio-pictures I have seen over the past year. In fact, this might be one of the best such productions ever made. I only hesitate to make that claim because, being rather detail oriented, I want to research more of the information included as well as see this film a few more times before putting it on that kind of pedestal. Still, this film humanizes Joe and his work in a way that is both respectful and honest. It gives us a valid picture of who Joe was, and yet somehow manages to not fall into the hole of idol-worship that most music documentaries succumb to. On all counts, those are significant accomplishments indeed.

Like most musician bio-pictures, this one is comprised in large part of interviews and commentaries about Joe and by Joe. We get to see clips of him speaking and reflecting in his own words on the success of The Clash as well as the ups and downs he experienced since the group broke up, both in and out of music. You can't help but feel a certain closeness to Joe's life that was not easily obtained from the books and movies that were made before this one. And you can't help but feel happy for Joe that he was able to get back out of the shadows and start performing live again after all those years. After all, if it weren't for Joe bands like Green Day probably would have never existed if not for him and The Clash.

One key difference however, is that some of the stylized narration that is normal for such features has been intelligently pared down to a minimum. They also seem to have done an excellent job in choosing great clips and editing them in such a way that even the random thoughts and opinions of the many interviewees flow extremely well. So not only is this watchable, but you are bound to gain at least some small insight you didn't have before watching. And that applies to the general music fan just as much as it does to the hardcore fan of Joe and his work.

Definitely give this documentary top billing and rent it or buy it soon. This is a work of story telling that any music lover can appreciate.

Enjoy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2008
It's a rockin' world make no mistake about it. These are the words of one Joe Strummer. But in my opinion and as this doc will attest the world is a not as rockin' as it was when Mr. Strummer was still with us. The story of the man, his bands and his influence on the world regardless of whether or not they could understand him. As pointed out in the DVD by one fan, "you guys are great but I can't understand the words." Joe replys simply. " That's ashame because the words are really great."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 8, 2009
To those who loved the Clash, Joe Strummer really was a hero in the age on none. Julian Temple's great documentary on the late Clashman, THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN provides a great look into the life of brilliant, if troubled vocalist.

Combining reminisces from former compatriots, interviews and great live footage from the Clash's glory day, the film does a great job of showing what forces formed Joe's musical vision and his deep integrity. It also does not shy away from showing the troubles that haunted his life and career. It's a sad irony that Strummer's life ended just as he seemed to be beginning to hit his stride again.

Any fan of the Clash, or even Joe's solo career would be well advised to at least invest the time to watch this touching documentary.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
They gathered old friends and acquaintances around the fire to tell us about Joe Strummer. And at first I was wondering why they were all sitting around actual camp fires until it got into Strummer's latter years of which I didn't know too much. I didn't know much about his formative years either, actually. I just liked The Clash. This documentary covers The Clash years and the years before and after really well it seems to me. I felt I learned a lot about the guy after listening to all these people who knew him. There is a lot of footage included. Highly recommended to fans of contemporary music and Joe Strummer and those that just enjoy a good documentary.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2009
This film is essential for fans of The Clash and probably entertaining for any lover of music documentaries. The obligatory Clash music is there, but so is a lot of other music that Joe Strummer liked or considered influential, and his own voice DJ-ing his "London Calling" satellite radio show provides occasional narration, talking directly to his listeners and to us watching this film. For a guy who was filled with alot of anger early in his career, he had a very calming presence near the end and Julian Temple did a good job building that story line. Another technique that was really original and refreshing was how all of the "celebrity" interviews were mixed in with friends and neighbors and fellow musicians and none of them were identified when they spoke. Everyone just sat around the campfire--different campfires around the world--talking music and telling stories about Joe Strummer and The Clash. Turn this one up LOUD, sit back and enjoy.
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