by Alex Jackson I worry that this film was wasted on me. I usually walk out of the Q&A sessions after festival screenings because I can't bear to hear the stupid questions the audience asks or, as in the case of M dot Strange, the filmmaker's stupid answers. This time, however, the questions were intelligent and thoughtful, and, it almost goes without saying, so were the replies. Watching Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, I was reminded a bit of those critics who said that The Passion of the Christ was made for hardcore Christians and that nobody else is going to have any idea what's happening. I know fuck-all about Joe Strummer or The Clash, so I watched this film expecting to learn a little something. Good god, man, it was exhausting. Director Julien Temple never stops to let a point sink in and never organizes the material into actual scenes--it's just one thing after another. He folds in clips from Animal Farm and the out-of-print fifties version of 1984, tons of archival footage of The Clash, and fireside interviews with people who knew Strummer and celebrities who admired him (I admit I laughed when Johnny Depp showed up to sombrely reflect on Strummer's legacy in his Captain Jack costume). Punk music, some Strummer's and some not, is weaved in and out of the soundtrack, oftentimes at ear-splitting volumes. (When a segment of Israel Kamakiwo'ole's lyrical "Over the Rainbow" appears, it's a sweet relief.) There is a sense in which the film falls victim to a cardinal sin of documentaries: it doesn't want to say something about its subject or place it in a context in which it can be better understood, it simply wants to be its subject. That hardly matters, though, because Temple may have actually succeeded in finding a union between subject and form--Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten might very well be Joe Strummer. Indeed, it doesn't seem to be about the music; the music is one more element in the entire tapestry. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is two hours of pure energy, and perhaps it's possible to appreciate it on a purely experiential level if you already know virtually all there is to know about The Clash. I'm not sure I can say that it was a particularly enjoyable experience, but I think I can detect brilliance when I see it. There is something magical and otherworldly about the editing: not a frame is wasted and, combined with the narration and music, an image as innocuous as somebody looking directly into the camera or walking into a Baskin-Robbins inexplicably accrues an enormous visceral wallop. I'm not 100% sold on it, but I gotta confess: this is a film with momentum.