IFC First Take
Joe Strummer
JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN — *** — Documentary feature about late British musician Joe Strummer; not rated, probable R (profanity, vulgarity, drugs, violence, slurs); Broadway Centre

Anyone who isn't already familiar with the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer, or with his subsequent band the Mescaleros, may find "The Future Is Unwritten" a little long and rambling.

But it's clear that this documentary profile of the musician was a labor of love for director Julien Temple, who pulled together more than 20 years of archival clips and rare interviews, along with more recent footage.

Because he was so close to his subject, music-videographer/filmmaker Temple was probably hesitant to trim any of that material to cut the film down. And it is perhaps a bit much. But those who loved the Clash or Strummer will be enthralled throughout.

"The Future Is Unwritten" examines Strummer's life and shows how he went from being an art-school dropout to a pop culture icon.

As the film shows, his musical endeavors began with the more rockabilly-flavored combo the 101'ers and then progressed to the Clash, which was arguably the most influential of the British punk-rock acts.

Temple also looks at Strummer's personal life and his post-Clash career, which included stints as a radio disc jockey, as a soundtrack composer (mostly for filmmaker Alex Cox) and as an actor (in Jim Jarmusch's 1989 film "Mystery Train"). And of course, there was also the Mescaleros, his World Music-style collaboration.

There's no denying that Strummer was a fascinating, compelling figure. And Temple's film makes you sad that his life ended so soon — he died in 2002 at age 50. (Which means there will never be reunion with his former Clash mate Mick Jones.)

However, there are a few less-than-crucial elements here, such as when Temple asks Strummer's celebrity friends Johnny Depp, John Cusack and Matt Dillon what they thought of him.

"Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong sexual language (profanity, vulgar slang terms and other suggestive talk), drug content (narcotics references and use), some strong violent imagery (rioting, concert violence and disturbing artwork and cartoons), and racial epithets and other slurs. Running time: 123 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com