Thursday, December 27, 2007

sights and sounds of 07

2007 has been a superb year for Clash fans, and therefore, a superb year for me.

Film of the year has to be, without a doubt, Julian Temple's The Future is Unwritten - a funny, touching, raw and elegantly conceived documentary on the life of perhaps the single greatest man to ever walk the surface of the earth.

Okay, so the campfire/Strummerville motif that runs through the film is a little bit schmaltzy. Fortunately, Temple never forgets that Strummer was a snobby, philandering, arrogant, jumped-up little twat for most of his twenties which dulls the toothache. But it's Temple's stunning mastery of archive footage, home videos and talking heads (who veer from the sycophantic to the downright disappointed and hostile) that make this one of the greatest rockumentaries since Nick Broomfield's Kurt and Courtney.

Gone are the crutches of bog-standard documentaries - no intrusive subtitles or credits introducing people (and too right - if you don't know that's Mick Jones talking you need to go back to school), no hammy attempts to structure a narrative where there isn't one and no struggling to make Strummer into a hero, a sinner, or saint. Narrated entirely using recordings of Joe Strummer's posh snarl, the film is a masterclass in editing. Excluding the campfire interviews, Joe Strummer, his family and friends pretty much shot all footage themselves. The effect is direct, immediate, moving and utterly absorbing.

The film's opening, with a young Joe Strummer screaming the opening to White Riot smacks you round the head with all the force of hearing the song for the first time. Those opening minutes put The Future is Unwritten ahead of anything else released this year.

And song of the year? Sorry to be dull, but it has to be MIA's Paper Planes. This song was love at first listen when I heard it at the end of this summer. I spent the first year of my university degree waking up to a Clash compilation, dozing through The Magnificent Seven and Rock the Casbah, only rising when Straight to Hell came on. The song is a perfect example of that lazy, mellow, pseudo-exotic, ambient-rock The Clash did so well, (see also Sean Flynn) underpinned by the most horrifying of sentiments. As you sink back into the song, you are chastised by your own comfort and complacency. Genius.

So for MIA to take that sublimely insidious lounge riff and overlay it with a drum track is inspired. Slowing down the drawn out scream of Straight to Hell's opening squeal and matching it with her passive/aggressive British ghetto-whine, then slamming in the sinister comedy of gunshots, trigger pulls and cash registers for good measures, is a trick of menacing beauty. I can't tell you how relieved and delighted I was to hear a Clash song sampled, revived and done proud. I'm sure Joe is well pleased. I am.


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