Review by Phil Wilson
Director: Danny Garcia
Writers: Robin Banks, Danny Garcia
Stars: Viv Albertine, Mick Jones, Pearl Harbour
There are a great many unanswered questions in the world, but I’d argue that “How do you tackle a documentary about ‘The Only Band That Matters’?” is one of the most important. Of course, it has been attempted before with The Clash: Westway to The World and the more recent Joe Strummer focused The Future is Unwritten.
Luckily, however, Danny Garcia and Robin Banks have arrived to probe much deeper, and shed a much brighter light on the trials and tribulations of the band we all love.
The Rise and Fall of The Clash has all the structural integrity of a good documentary: a slew of appropriate, interesting and charismatic talking heads (Pearl Harbour, Viv Albertine, Vic Godard, Pete Howard, Vince White and Mick Jones himself, to name but a few); it tackles its topic with compassion and thorough knowledge, and it aims to educate at every turn.
Setting it apart from past Clash efforts, however, is the sheer degree of investigation and encyclopaedic familiarity on show. The main anchor points of the film are in the form of Bernie Rhodes’ perpetual grasp over the band; and the events leading to, and fallout of, Mick Jones’ departure.
Interestingly, although the documentary perfectly captures the energetic combustion of the band’s initial steps, the tone is never one of sickening sycophancy. Everything discussed, and everyone interviewed, is given a fair platform on which to voice their opinions – no matter how bitter or sentimental.
As a testament to this, the latter half of the film begins to show us the internal struggles faced by the indefatigable Strummer. Increasingly, as Garcia travels deeper behind the scenes, the contemporary figurehead takes the form of a tortured soul: facing a crisis of guilt over Jones’ departure; his struggles coping with his mother’s illness, the death of his father and the commercial manipulation of Rhodes.
The documentary expertly, and often amusingly, distils the spirit of the time that the band found themselves in – particularly so with Vince White and Pete Howard’s secret love of Yes – often set against a backdrop of political instability and uncertainty.
Uncertainty itself is something of a running theme. How do you categorise or describe what the Clash are? What the Clash stood for? What the Clash meant to their droves of devoted followers? As the film winds to a finish, even those closest to the group have differing subjective views of what they were.
Nobody shared the same experience of what it meant to be a loyal enthusiast – but all shared the comfort of being caught in the slipstream of Strummer and co. This distinguished look at the rise and fall of the only band that mattered is a skilful analysis that deserves the attention of the rest of us – the ones who weren’t there when it all began, but felt the same blow when it all ended.