Genre: Documentary, Music
Directed by: Danny Garcia
Punk rock legends The Clash have no shortage of documentaries peeking behind their enduring legacy, so any new attempt to do so might be deemed surplus to requirement. Director Danny Garcia’s latest effort to pull back the curtain aims to separate itself from the rest by placing the spotlight not on the band’s glory days but rather on their messy and wasteful breakup instead. While this change in focus is most welcome, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash doesn’t really have too much to say beyond that.
While it’s important for any great music documentary to stand out from the crowd, it’s pretty essential to get the basics right first. In its eagerness to tread new ground and examine The Clash’s often over-looked final years, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash frequently neglects to fully explain who or what it is talking about. Though clearly aimed at The Clash devout rather than casual fans, the documentary has a tendency to mention important people or events in passing without ever really elaborating. The band’s infamous manager Bernie Rhodes, for example, is discussed and dissected for several minutes and by several people until one of them offhandedly mentions that this tyrannical but occasionally inspired individual was, in fact, the band’s manager. Likewise, longstanding Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl is frequently name-dropped but his role or relationship to the band is never really explained. This problem particularly plagues the first half of the of the film where Danny Garcia attempts to rattle through the Clash’s rise to superstardom with such breakneck pace that an awful lot of specifics are lost in favour of vague generalisations.
For a film examining the legacy of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash is curiously light on actual music. There are snippets of live performances here and there but for the most part, Garcia is content to let talking heads, well, talk while archive footage plays silently, often accompanied by background music that is not of the band’s creation. I understand that this is a documentary and not a concert film but with the righteous fury of The Clash left discussed but seldom heard, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash become strangely staid and lifeless.
Thankfully, things pick up when Garcia begins treading into largely unexplored territory and the band’s baffling final years are put under the microscope. While the rapid-fire firing of drummer Topper Headon and guitarist Mick Jones is familiar to most Clash fans, the trials and tribulations of substitute musicians Pete Howard, Nick Sheppard and Vince White is something that is often written out of the history books and their involvement here offers some real insight into the band’s agonisingly misguided final steps.
The Rise And Fall Of The Clash’s commitment to covering new ground is admirable and will make it worth a watch for hardcore fans of The Clash. For everyone else, it’s an occasionally interesting but far from definitive looks at a truly iconic band.