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One More Clash Documentary: BBC Four The Clash: New Year’s Day ’77

March 2, 2017

1977

This is a film made by Julien Temple as a way of using up some primitive footage of The Clash that he’d never previously quite known what to do with.  By use of a strategic and witty collage of contemporary and not remotely contemporary clips – a 75 minute film emerges.

The recurring context is New Year’s Eve – New Year’s Day, 1976/7.  This being a Julien Temple film, the joy of this “completed” film lies in the editing and the juxtaposition of discordant yet appropriate material.  Discordia concors.    The sheer cheesiness and sinister quality of 1970s television is constantly being reinforced.  Did we really sit and watch Freddie Starr pretending to be Hitler fighting Henry Cooper in a boxing ring?  Really?  Did the whole family gather together for the purpose of doing that?  The strange stepping dance performed by “Brotherhood of Man” to their Eurovision winning hit “Save All Your Kisses For Me” is lodged in my head right now – as is the tune itself, proving that I’m a very bad person.

One of the more interesting bits of contextual discussion involves people who illegally try to evade currency controls. These controls were abolished early in the Thatcher administration, but back in the 1970s, people who tried to bet against their own economy by throwing their money around the world were often regarded as unpatriotic criminals.  Makes you think.   Thatcher herself appears at one point and pledges that implementing her own austerity programme would add less than 100,000 to the unemployment register.  Was she ever called on this assertion, when unemployment tripled to 3,000,000 on her watch?  I suppose back in the 1980s, we didn’t all have access to video clips and search engines.  She may have gotten away with it.  She did get away with it.

Temple makes extensive use of clips of The Red Shoes (dir. Michael Powell), partly to remind us of the Covent Garden setting, but mainly to contrast his own grainy black and white footage with some of the most bold and luxuriant colour film ever shot.  Powell and Pressburger, superlative fantasists, are there to make the Clash footage look even rougher than it really is.  Some of the film is from the 70s, but some is from the 60s, 50s and even 40s – all of which adds to the polemical argument that prior to 1977, Britain was very much trapped by its past and was continually recycling obsolete material.  1976 (prior to punk) might as well have been stuck in the 1950s, is Temple’s rather heavy handed implication.

The smallness of the Roxy is remarkable.  It’s a grubby little place, and the PA doesn’t work properly, a circumstance that Strummer understandably is exercised by.  The performance is perhaps heightened by this sense of frustration.  “I’m so bo-o-o-red of the U-S-A” is especially incandescent.  Strummer is at his best when commenting on the song, illustrating that what really bores him about the USA is its degraded commodification in a London setting and the lazy deference to what’s perceived as American hegemony.

The band are so unused to seeing themselves on camera that they cavort in front of a video screen like chimps.  Nowadays everybody sees film of themselves all the time – and we know the shape of our faces and our bodies in motion better than the back of our own hands (which we rarely bother to film).  We are watching people who aren’t used to being filmed, which means we are watching people who we now revere as rock stars who are less media savvy than anyone we now know in the twenty-first century.

In rehearsal, this is a band in a state of transition.  Terry Chimes is out and probably not coming back, but Topper has yet to be found.  They slump in their rehearsal space in Camden not knowing where the next meal is coming from, but seem strangely relaxed.  They’re in control – but more remote control than complete control.

Much of the fun of the film consists of trying to spot familiar faces in crowds.  You will find many if you try.  Shane McGowan seems to be having a good time.  It’s hard to tell.

In the final analysis, this is a way of continually saying “Happy New Year” to 1977, and trying to evoke a co-mingled sense of dread and expectation associated with the clash of sevens that puts Joe Strummer’s shirt front and centre.

I think , though, I need to see a few films that aren’t about The Clash in any way.  Just for a few weeks.

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