It was while attending film school in London in the mid-’70s that Julien Temple first saw the Clash.
Already shooting footage of the Sex Pistols, he asked if he could film the Clash as well, to which they agreed.
“Mick [Jones, the band’s guitarist] lived in my flat for a bit, so I was quite close to them while I was filming,” Temple says. “I had a good relationship with Joe [Strummer, the lead singer and another of the group’s guitarists], with all of them I think, even though I was more middle class — other than Joe.”
There was an interesting dynamic to the Temple-Strummer relationship.
“I had a little bit of a thing with Joe, because it takes one to know one,” says Temple. “He was trying really hard to be a reinvented street punk and to have some idiot like me hanging around… ” Temple’s voice trails off into a chuckle before adding, “Class was a huge mental thing at that stage. Particularly in the punk movement, which was supposed to be very pure and rising up from the streets. But, you know, it takes all types to make a revolution.”
Temple shot around nine hours of footage of the Clash at the time, including some early music videos.
“Really hilariously primitive,” he says. “Like for ‘London’s Burning’ we used postcards of London Bridge and Buckingham Palace… quite good, actually!”
But ultimately, Temple had to choose sides between the two leading punk acts of the day, and his first allegiance was always to the Sex Pistols. He would go on to direct two documentaries about the Pistols (“The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle” and “The Filth And The Fury”), and later directed the films “Absolute Beginners” and “Earth Girls Are Easy,” as well as videos for the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Neil Young, among others. And now, he’s finally returned to the Clash with his latest documentary, “Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.”
The film’s roots go back to 1997, when Temple learned that Strummer was now his neighbor in Somerset, England.
“We spent a lot of time together,” he says. “I got pretty close to him and understood a lot of things I hadn’t understood about him before. There was a lot of depth to the man that I hadn’t seen when he was — in a sense — covering it up. He’d play music, and it was a fantastic education to hear some of the stuff that he was into. And discussing ideas and literature; I hadn’t understood the deep connection he had to different writers. I was watching this man emerging from what had obviously been a very difficult period that I wasn’t a part of in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”
Then, just as suddenly, it was all over, when Strummer unexpectedly died in 2002 due to an undiagnosed congenital heart condition. He was 50 years old.
“It seemed like he would go on forever,” says Temple. “Joe was always such a life force; you didn’t really comprehend when he died that it was possible, really. I think a lot of people were pretty devastated by it. And a lot of people, certainly in England, were connected though Joe; they knew each other through Joe, and so, when the center of the wheel went, the spokes were all collapsed a bit.”
The idea of doing a film about Strummer came to Temple when he was working on “Glastonbury,” a documentary about the English music festival.
“I had a sequence with Joe where he attacks the cameras on stage,” he explains. “And I was thinking, he was such a great guy… you know, I could make a film about Joe! And then maybe we