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Strummer, Joe - Get Up, Stand Up: Deluxe 2 Disc Edition
Mike Parkinson's hour long documentary Viva Joe Strummer (a.k.a. Viva Strummer) is repackaged in this new two-disc set, Get Up, Stand Up, though the first disc in the set brings nothing new. The film, co-written by Parkinson and Ray Santilli (the same guy who produced Alien Autopsy: Fact Or Fiction?), isn't so much a documentary or biography piece as it is a collection of recollections and interviews with those who knew the late front man of The Clash and The Mescelaros.
The movie begins by giving us a very quick overview of Strummer's pre-Clash days. We get a few archival pictures and an interview with Tyman Dogg, who would teach Strummer how to play guitar and then later join him in The Mescaleros, before we learn how he started his first band, the 101ers. There's an interesting and rather bizarre unreleased audio clip used here that is apparently a recording of Strummer playing guitar and providing backing vocals over Dogg's leads as the two busk somewhere in early seventies London, but this section feels very rushed even if it does make the point that Strummer's middle class upbringing would alienate him from certain punk purists.
From there, we learn how Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon wound up recruiting him to front The Clash and interviews with the surviving members flesh this section out a little more effectively. They discuss what Strummer was able to bring to the band, the key qualities being an infectious enthusiasm, fantastic stage energy and some very impressive songwriting skills and we trace the band as they rise and then fall apart. Strummer would kick Topper out because of his substance abuse problems shortly before he and Jones would have a clashing of egos that resulted in Strummer basically keeping The Clash going in a fairly bastardized form. Their former road manger chimes in and talks about how sad it was to see them perform live in this form.
Of course, with The Clash finished, Strummer spent a good decade or so trying to figure out his place. He experimented with electronica and dance music and played around with acting and soundtrack work before eventually getting a new band together in the form of the aforementioned Mescaleros. When they did a benefit for striking firemen, Mick Jones, who was in the audience that night, would join them on stage and some video footage of that night (really the closest we ever got to a Clash reunion) showcases the two playing a few classics from their years together. Shortly after that night, however, Strummer would die from a heart problem at the young age of just fifty-one. Those who knew Strummer provide recollections about his later years and a woman who runs a U.S. based website dedicated chimes in on his influence.
Most of the comments from the interviewees are quite touching as each one seems to have really appreciated what Strummer brought to modern music and in turn to the world but at an hour long, a lot of material remains uncovered. As a documentary, the feature is too short and far too incomplete, though as a tribute it's at least moderately interesting, despite its flaws. The director's insistence to ruin the mood by cutting to poorly used video effects at the beginning of each sound bite is irritating and pointless and while it's probably not meant to be disrespectful, it seems almost amateurish in its use. On top of that, some of the people interviewed didn't really have as much to say as others - it's all well and good that a woman who runs a website about Strummer continues to meet people who were touched by his music, but her input doesn't carry the weight as someone like Mick Jones who obviously had a much closer and more personal attachment to him. This ensures that the feature has some fairly obvious inconsistencies throughout its brief running time. Thankfully, Strummer is an important enogh and interesting enough subject all on his own that despite more than a few slips, the movie is worth checking out for fans, if far from essential.The DVD:
Viva Strummer is presented in a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer that appears to be the picture's original aspect ratio, though some odd vertical stretching appears in some shots. The image quality here is pretty mediocre. You'd expect some of the concert clips to look a bit rough, and they do though they're completely watchable, but some of the more recent footage is soft. The transfer, culled from the original video master you would assume, is interlaced and detail is rather bland. There are also some compression artifacts present, which is surprising since the movie is only an hour long and there's really not much else on the disc. The movie is certainly watchable enough, but it doesn't really look all that hot.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on this disc is pretty basic but it gets the job done. Dialogue is easy enough to understand so long as you don't have a problem with English accents, and the levels are fine. Some of the archival concert clips sound a little hot but you can't really fault the disc authoring for that. The interview clips are pretty clean, however, and they make up the bulk of the feature's running time. No subtitles or alternate language options are included.Extras:
The extras on the first disc are limited to a rather basic looking menu and a weblink, but there is a second disc included in this release that contains a bunch of audio interviews conducted with Strummer over the years. There are eleven different conversations included here, recorded between 1979 and 2001, but no information is provided as to where they originated. Regardless, for Strummer fans, these will prove interesting as he talks quite honestly about The Clash's rise and fall and some of his other projects.
Die hard Strummer fans and Clash completists might want to pick this up for their collection and the inclusion of the audio interview CD is a nice touch but you can't help but feel that this documentary could and should have been so much more interesting than it is and that it leaves a whole lot of ground uncovered. As it stands, it's a nice tribute to Strummer, but it's simply not all that interesting. The presentation is rather mediocre and the feature isn't strong enough to make up for that. That said, Strummer is an interesting enough guy and his music remains important enough that if you're a fan, you might want to check it out with a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.