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Facts of the Case
Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon are the original members of the influential punk rock group The Clash. The Rise and Fall of the Clash is the true life story of a band destined for ruin, but on the way down reaches the heights of music superstardom.
When The Clash's biggest selling album "Combat Rock" was released in 1982, little did anyone know that this pinnacle year, one that culminated with a show at Shea Stadium opening for The Who, would be the beginning of the end for this iconic group. Unfortunately, their compelling story is lost in the meandering documentary The Rise and Fall of The Clash, so much so, you practically need companion notes to make sense of it all.
The two main creative driving forces in The Clash were lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones, and this is their story (insert that Law and Order sound here). When you boil everything down, this documentary is about two polar opposite men who wanted very different things from the band they fronted. Jones wanted his hard work to result in the glamorous life of a rock star with a model girlfriend, flashy cars, and a big house. While Strummer wanted the band to be serious and message oriented, and felt the flashy life style that Jones was living was a betrayal of themselves.
Strummer and Jones had a Jagger/Richards like relationship, fueled by the definitive villain in the story, Bernard Rhodes, a maniacal and controlling manager, who loved the anarchy and disorder the rift created. Since Strummer and Jones barely spoke to each other, Rhodes was able to manipulate Strummer and bass player Simonon into getting rid of the often selfish Jones.
Now this is the kind of story ripe for an exciting and engaging documentary, right? But director Danny Garcia delivers a confusing and often disorganized account of the bands tumultuous time together. Maybe this was his way of symbolizing the chaos that swirled around the band for its entire ten year existence, but when detailing the true story of someone's life, clarity is key; and Garcia is never able to focus in on what his vision for this film is supposed to be.
Even the one on one interviews reveal little about The Clash. Of the surviving members, Mick Jones is interviewed the most—whether this is because of a bias of the filmmaker or because the others only wanted to participate minimally is never explained. Even Jones' version keeps us at arm's length, revealing very little about what how he really felt during his time in the band. There are other interviews with friends and associates of The Clash, but Garcia darts from one interview to the next without any cohesive plan, until finally all of their stories just blend together into one big muddled mess.
The Clash's music is sprinkled throughout, but we never get to see full performances or hear more than snippets of their songs. What I consider the most egregious act committed by Garcia in The Rise and Fall of The Clash is his skimming over what should have been the most important and heartwarming part of the whole film. Just before Joe Strummer's untimely death in 2002, he and Mick Jones mended fences and performed together one last time—sniff, sniff. Garcia throws this in during the last ten minutes or so of the film, as if it's just a minor detail hardly worth mentioning. Leaving little time to digest the immensity of that event, and mourn the passing of Mr. Strummer. Everything in the documentary seems as if it was leading to this reunion of sorts, but Garcia lessens its importance by treating so halfheartedly.
There's no doubt The Clash's story deserves a much better re-telling than what Garcia's The Rise and Fall of The Clash delivers. There is a great narrative here, but this film misses the mark. I think even hardcore Clash fans will be disappointed at the haphazard and sloppy way in which the band's story is told.
This 1.77:1 standard def presentation contains a lot of old grainy footage with washed out colors from the band's early days. Current day video is clear, the colors sharp with fairly good lighting. The Dolby 5.1 audio is fine during the interviews, but the segments from the late '70s and early '80s are muffled and distorted. There are no extras in this is a bare bones DVD release.
There is one positive to take away from The Rise and Fall of The Clash, and that is this film will make you want to find a better documentary about the legendary band.
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