The newest documentary on the Clash begins with a quote from Shakespeare: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them." Danny Garcia's The Rise and Fall of the Clash,-originally released in 2012 but finally made available on DVD in April of this year, is a fresh take on a band whose members embodied all these degrees of greatness and contributed to its decline into contradiction and controversy until its inevitable demise. The film is a punk rock tragedy with its characters suspended in impossible, soul-crushing situations, searching for lost meanings in their own creation once standing at the top of the world.
The documentary spends very little time on the Clash's rise to success before delving deep into the behind-the-scenes drama of the band's disintegration. As the cast of characters are introduced and developed, infamous band manager Bernard Rhodes takes on the role of not only the film's antagonist is seen as practically the sole person resonsible for breaking up the Clash and turning it into the mockery of itself that it became. Rhodes is the band's militant controller- including Joe Strummer's manipulator, Mick Jones' ostracizer, and the conman that forced the later members to submit to the Clash as a corporate regime. From 1982's Combat Rock to 1985's Cut the Crap and all tours in between, Rhodes increasingly pressures the band to follow his influence until it can no longer function under the stigma he morphed it into.
However what is really striking about the film is, of course, the personal insight from the individuals who were there throughout the fall of the Clash. Pearl Harbour, Tymon Dogg, Terry Chimes, Viv Albertine, and even Mick Jones himself (to name a few) all provide their own thoughts on the unraveling of the only band that mattered. As they speak of the band's loss of their fiery angst and passion once they gained massive commerical success and attention (peaking at playing stadium shows opening for the Who in 1982), you start to witness the heartache and psychological pain of the Clash, especially Joe Strummer, that gradually consumed the band.
From the removal of Topper Headon due to drug use with no second thought, to the simmering tension between Mick Jones and Joe Strummer that boiled over into Jones getting sacked, and finally to the showcasing of Strummer's fearless but doomed efforts to continue the Clash as even he appeared to be getting lost in it all- these are the ugly points of Clash history that are so often overlooked but so necessary to truly understanding each individual member of the band. The stories of the later, lesser-known members of the Clash stand out as well, for despite their sometimes overly emotional testimonies, they offer a deeper look into the mindset of Joe Strummer during this troubled time of his life.
Nearly the entire last act of the film is about Strummer and his struggle to lead the manufactured machine that was the Clash controlled by Rhodes-his frustration with its output and his ultimate resignation from the band. It really is sad to hear the story of Strummer tracking down Mick Jones in attempt to reform the Clash together like in its early days, only to find he realized his mistake too late-as Jones was only starting to have success with his next band, Big Audio Dynamite. However, the film ends with Jones joining Strummer onstage one last time in 2002, for the first time in twenty years and weeks before Strummer's untimely death; perhaps an act of forgiveness to relieve Strummer's guilt and regret.
The Rise and Fall of the Clash is an essential watch for any die-hard Clash fan- but because the film dives right into the middle of the Clash's career with almost no backstory, any viewers not familiar with the band and its history will probably be confused. Though at times it gets a bit bogged down by personal qualms between band members and managers, what the documentary reveals best is the overall beauty of the Clash even amidst their breakdown- the multiplicity of the band's meaning and modes of expression and the enormous impact it still has today on punk rock music, lifestyle, and message. Furthermore, it compliments previous Clash documentaries, serving as a bridge between 2000's Westway to the World (that ends with Jones's departure) and 2007's The Future is Unwritten (a focus on Joe Strummer's life and legacy). The Rise and Fall of the Clash provides the missing piece of the Clash puzzle: why a truly great punk rock band just couldn't, and wouldn't, take over the world.