‘I think the music business will eventually crush me…’
An exhaustive documentary on The Beatles touring years…
‘They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job...’
Frustrating documentary doesn’t do it’s fascinating subject matter justice…
Director Julian Temple has picked some cracking subjects to make documentaries about including Glastonbury, The Sex Pistols (twice) and Dr. Feelgood and in Clash frontman Joe Strummer he once again chose wisely.
The Future is Unwritten is a documentary about Strummer, not his most famous musical project The Clash so there is a lot to cover from his beginnings as a Woody Guthrie inspired folk singer through his years with the Clash and his introduction to World Music.
The problem with The Future is Unwritten is not the subject matter but the execution. Temple makes some bold stylistic decisions that don’t really pay off. The talking heads speaking so lovingly about Strummer are never properly introduced so only an expert would know who they are which makes for a frustrating watch. Most of the contributors are filmed whilst sitting around a camp fire, which rather than feeling intimate only serves to further distract from Strummer’s story.
On the flip side of this, the archive footage of Strummer is illuminating and at times inspiring and the soundtrack is as good as you would expect. As with Glastonbury though The Future Is Unwritten most of all feels a bit like an incoherent mess and a wasted opportunity.
Noel Gallagher: ‘The first day going into Creation, scrawled on the wall behind Tim Abbott’s desk in big black felt pen was ‘Northern Ignorance’ and I thought, ‘That kind of describes me, I fucking love this place already, I’ve not been here two minutes’
Following the death of Factory records founder Tony Wilson in 2007 praise was correctly lavished on both Wilson and the effect his bands had on the musical landscape. There is an argument that Creation Records have been just as instrumental. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Ride, Super Furry Animals, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and of course Oasis all found their feet on a record label that was mostly run out of a tiny office in Hackney by ‘President of Pop’ Alan McGee and a bunch of other lunatics. Upside Down is their story…
When you have such charismatic talking heads as Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Noel Gallagher, Jim Reid (Mary Chain) and McGee himself it would be impossible not to mine some interesting stories. Danny O’ Connor does a brilliant job in piecing all the interviews together to tell what is an incredible story.
One minor criticism is it would be interesting to have more of an outsiders perspective as Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and Joy Division bassist Peter Hook only have very brief moments on camera. The flipside to this is having read Alan McGee’s excellent book Creation Stories it becomes clear that Upside Down only tells half the story in nearly an hour and three quarters so to expect even more interviews is perhaps a bit unrealistic.
I must admit I didn’t know a huge amount about the early Creation bands until I watched Upside Down upon it’s release in 2010 but I have discovered so much great music from this documentary and it is safe to say the main draw of this project is the quite frankly astonishingly brilliant soundtrack. Which is how it should be with a film about music.