Monday, August 15, 2016

DVD Review: I Need a Dodge! – Joe Strummer on the Run

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

I Need a Dodge!: Joe Strummer on the Run
Directed by Nick Hall
Tin Dog Productions / Cadiz Music / MVD Visual
67 minutes, 2015

If you have to ask who Joe Strummer is, well, you’re reading the wrong blog post. Honestly, he was the only one of the Clash I actually thought was cool (though Paul Simonon had his moments). That being said, the Clash started out as one of the biggest punk bands out of the English phase, and turned into one of the biggest disappointments. London Calling was a mixture of amazing work and commercial dreck, and by the time Combat Rock came out, I couldn’t listen to their stuff anymore. It was almost a relief when Strummer left the group around 1985.

Thanks kind of where this documentary really starts to pick up. I didn’t realize that Strummer headed for Spain; he had a fling with an Iberian woman early in his career, learned some Spanish, and fell in love with the country.

While there, Joe hooked up with a band in Granada called the 091. This seemed ironic, since his first recordings in England were with the similarly titular number-oriented and underrated 101ers. Pre-Joe, the 091 considered themselves punk, but musically I would say they were closer to the New Romantics pop, along the lines of Simple Minds or Tears for Fears (at least in the short clip we see of an early incarnation of the band). Gathering a popular Spanish band called Radio Futura, he then recorded with them as well.

Most of the members of these bands, and other friends from that period and before, are interviewed in the film, which is mostly recorded in Spanish in oral history mode, meaning there are no questions heard to be asked, just the participants telling their stories. There are some nicely done captions in English with a few other languages available. Also included is a Spanish version of the film on the DVD as one of the extras, which I did not watch.

And where does the title of the film come in? Joe Strummer bought a Dodge (or Spanish knockoff, depending on the storyteller) while in the country, even though he had neither licence nor registration (in someone else’s name) and somehow he lost it by forgetting where it was parked. During a radio interview in Madrid, he mentions how he wants to find it, and there is the premise. It’s kind of a slim one as it’s not discussed all that much at the beginning, but that’s fine. What we get instead in a post-Clash Strummer who was mostly out of the Western Hemisphere’s eye, and this fills in the gaps quite nicely.

Most of the early part of the story is more of Joe’s involvement with the musicians, including trying to produce their LP and battles with the ill-equipped record label that was more used to classical Spanish music than anything as raucous as Joe would tip is toe into.

I like that the story has a few different layers, like a history of Strummer (d. 2002) in Spain, the involvement of the car, and also Strummer’s working with the Spanish bands. All these threads are conveyed by those who were there, rather than a third party, such as a journalist who had written about it.

At first, the car comes into the conversation on occasion, focusing more anecdotally of his involvement with the 091 and Radio Futura, but as the tale plays out, the focus lingers on the titular subject more. We watch the director become the focus as he looks for the mystery car. Does he find it? Well, I’m not tellin’.

There is a lot that is formulaic about the formatting of the film, with multiple talking heads, but it remains interesting because they were there, and stories about Joe tend to be never dull. Also, Nick Hall is wise enough to know that most likely the audience for this film will not know these musicians and friends, so the title captions for each person come up pretty often. Thank you for that.

Another smart choice is that Hall keeps the film relatively short. Rather than dragging it out, he gets to the point in a mostly enjoyable roundabout way, not focusing merely on the car or the musicians, but edits it in an ever growing arc that keeps the interest level high.

There are a bunch of extras that go with the DVD, including a stack of deleted interviews that are mostly around a minute long, with a couple being around 3 to 5 minutes, and a 25-minute one with Pete Howard and Nick Sheppard, two members of the reformed Clash (who talk in detail about Joe’s troubled relationship with manager Bernie Rhodes). Taking these out were right, but so was adding them into the extras.

Another two bonuses are audio tracks of interviews with Joe, one being 13 minutes from 1984, and the other is also 13 minutes, from 1997. Both are in Spanish with subtitles. As an extra bonus sweetener, this is interview is also on a cassette (you read right) that is included with the DVD box. Sure it takes up more space on the shelf, but hell, it really is cool, proving once again what Marshall McLuhan said, that replaced technologies come back as art. In this case I might say art as fuck.

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