We’ve not reached the full-on Tupac/ Johnny Cash situation yet, perhaps, but a thriving mini-industry has sprung up in Joe Strummer heritage documentaries: Dick Rude’s snappy Mescaleros tour film, Let’s Rock Again (2004); Julien Temple’s possibly definitive profile The Future Is Unwritten (2007); and now Nick Hall’s sweet, low-budget documentary, itself an inadvertent semi-sequel to Danny Garcia’s enlightening Clash Mark II doc, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash (2012).
Hall’s film zooms in on the end of the Clash II chapter to focus on a brief, lesser-known moment in Strummer’s story: when, in 1985, with that rebooted version of the group collapsing, the singer left the UK. As Clash II members Nick Sheppard and Pete Howard reflect, the sudden disappearance was a virtual repeat of the headline-making vanishing act Strummer had performed back in 1982, when he “went missing” on the eve of the Combat Rock tour – with one crucial difference. This time when he disappeared, no one cared enough to notice.
Sporting a bruised ego and the beginnings of a beard, Strummer went to ground in Spain – a country for which he’d felt a deep, obsessive romantic attachment even before he got around to expressing it in songs like “Spanish Bombs” – to lick his wounds and try to work out the way ahead.
The title of Hall’s film refers to the car Strummer bought while he stayed there, a boxy boat that became a legend among slack-jawed local punks as he cruised it around the streets and bars of Granada, “a miraculous apparition.” Strummer lost the car when he eventually returned to the UK and his then-partner Gaby Holford, just in time for the birth of their first daughter, Lola: he parked it somewhere, and forgot where.
Hall mounts a little attempt to find that long-lost Dodge again as a slightly gimmicky framing device. But the real worth of his documentary lies in the memories, diaries and fading photographs of the members of Radio Futura and 091, Spanish bands Strummer befriended during his sojourn, and, in the latter case, tried to produce an LP for, with disastrous results.
Strummer had many adventures, and made a lot of good, forgotten music between the end of The Clash and his critical rebirth with The Mescaleros. It’s easy to imagine more such films appearing: surely, the tale of his reconciliation with Mick Jones and the creation of BAD’s No 10 Upping Street album deserves the documentary treatment next? But future historians should bear in mind the words of Gaby, who has the best line in the film: “What do they call it: ‘The Wilderness Years’? That was our *life*!”