REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha
DOCUMENTING LEGENDS - THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CLASH (DVD)
(Release: 10 March 2014 UDR/ADA/Warner)‘The Rise and Fall of the Clash’, aka ‘Every Single Thing That Ever Went Wrong with the Clash, ever’. I’m a Clash fan. I have been ever since I picked up a second hand copy of ‘London Calling’ by chance, as a vaguely angry, definitely depressed 16 year old. I loved that album, and bought everything else I could get my hands on. ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ is mentioned and the Clash thanked in the preface to my PhD thesis. It’s hard to overstate the influence this band, and in particular Joe Strummer, had on my life from mid-teens to mid-twenties. They helped me make sense of the world. The Clash didn’t just tell me that I wasn’t alone in thinking that society was fucked-up, they actually had a stab at figuring out what the sane response was (the answer didn’t have to be pretty). They talked meaningfully about being lost in the supermarket while everyone else I heard was wittering on and on about getting laid in one form or another, and nothing more. So I’ve got the background to the rise and fall of the Clash, which is good because this documentary doesn’t try and explain why the Clash were such an influential band, or why they were so important - why they are
still so important - to so many people. It’s light on the rise and very, very heavy on the fall. Every little detail of the fall, in fact. Within 10 minutes (bearing in mind that this documentary is an hour and a half long), we already find ourselves in 1981 – essentially missing out on the rise aspect altogether apart from a few insights from their long-standing bodyguard and a seemingly non-ageing Viv Albertine (The Slits). Their on/off manager (mostly ‘on’), Bernie Rhodes gets a bit of a shoeing, which is possibly why we only hear from him briefly throughout the doc but sadly only via a very badly-recorded telephone conversation - a riposte would have been most welcome, and somewhat fairer! Actually, if you think about it, The Clash were together for a hell of a long time. Longer than most bands that rose out of the magnificent, nasty, fucked-up, essential and inescapable whirlwind that was the early punk scene. The film makes a series of non-revelations: There was conflict between Mick and Joe? There was drinking and drugs? There were management issues? You shock me. Show me a band of the time that didn’t have any of these things as integral parts to their success/demise. Then it descends into sadness, with Mick Jones the least bitter, soberest interviewee. Topper Headon or Paul Simonon don’t even get a look in. There are a few issues with the piecing together of the documentary as a whole. For a start, we have very little action from the band themselves performing; there are snippets here and there but mostly of live recordings – some good, some not-so-good. During the brief section on arguably their greatest work, ‘Combat Rock’, not one second of a song from the record was played. Maybe there were some ownership issues – who can say? All I can say is that Don Letts – despite not being interviewed within the documentary – must have loaned most of his footage and photographs to the filmmakers. What music there was is misplaced; when Topper Headon’s replacement Pete Howard is talking about the later songs ‘not sounding anything like The Clash’, they’re playing ‘Brand New Cadillac’ in the background - a classic from the 'London Calling' era, some 7 years prior. Some wise and interesting things have been said about the Clash, what they were, and why it played out the way it did; Don Letts toured a couple of years ago and spoke with eloquence, humour and passion on the subject. Unfortunately, The Rise and Fall of the Clash doesn’t come close. It doesn’t have the background to be worthwhile watching for anyone who isn’t a diehard fan. If you do hold the Clash close to your heart, don’t expect to be enlightened or inspired. Just saddened.