The Clash

Rude Boy [DVD]

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Although time would swiftly negate much of its original impact, the Clash's 1980 movie, Rude Boy, remains one of the most convincing of all the manifold documents of British punk as it happened, tying the movement's political discontent into a historical context that other would-be chroniclers were too intense to see -- a true case of not seeing the woods through all the trees. British youth in the last years of the 1970s truly were trapped between two equally unpalatable extremes: the patent failure of a foundering socialist government on the one hand and the wholly unappetizing prospect of Margaret Thatcher's cruel conservatism on the other. Rude Boy, though it focuses much of its commentary upon a third evil, the ultra-racist National Front party, nevertheless offers a stern wake-up call to anybody tempted to wallow in the nostalgia for the "good old days." They really weren't that good. Neither, unfortunately, is the plot that accompanies the underlying drama, as the Clash take on an archetypal dead-end loser as a roadie, in the utopian hope of offering him a future that he is unable to see. In fact, it rapidly turns out that he isn't simply unable to see it, he doesn't actually want to, and the resultant suggestion that this hopeless youth is, indeed, hopeless is one reason why the bandmembers themselves swiftly distanced themselves from the film. Viewed two decades later, their discontent is less palpable, primarily because the musical accompaniment is so damned good. With cameras rolling throughout the band's 1978 tours, capturing incendiary performances at the Rock Against Racism festival in Victoria Park, Hackney, the Music Machine, the Lyceum, and more, the Clash are caught at the peak of their live powers, before experience and showmanship started shoving their original visceral instinct to one side. Three excerpts from the soundtrack ("London's Burning," "What's My Name," and "I Fought the Law") had already appeared on the From Here to Eternity live anthology; the movie's DVD release includes 11 further performances included in the original movie print, plus two more ("White Riot" and "English Civil War") by way of bonus footage. Other bonuses include production notes, a brief image library, and the ubiquitous animated graphics, but they are little more than momentary distractions. The Clash, on the other hand, are absolutely engrossing.

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