The Clash singer Joe Strummer once directed a bizarre punk-noir gangster film
Joe Strummer, at a time when his band The Clash were at the height of their fame, moved away from the microphone and turned his attentions to the world of cinema in an attempt to ignite a new creative spark.
As the snarling and uncompromising frontman of the iconic rock band, Strummer became a vital cog in the uncontrollable punk machine that dominated London in the 1970s. Despite his undeniable brilliance, however, Strummer was often known to throw caution to the wind somewhat. While tensions in the group threatened band relationships, Strummer would often disappear for weeks on end without alerting those close to him of his whereabouts.
It was during this difficult period, a time when The Clash had been riding the wave of success following the release of five hugely popular studio albums, that Strummer had an itch that he just couldn’t scratch and had his eyes firmly set on the big screen. With lingering disappointment following the overall result of Rude Boy, a 1980 film directed by Jack Hazan and David Mingay which the band later disowned, Strummer and his bandmates set about doing things their own way.
In a bid to revamp their creative spark following months of squabbling during intense tour schedules, Strummer dreamed up the idea of Hell W10, a Clash film written, directed and starring the band members. A total independent project which had subtle hints to 1930s film production and told the tale of a few small-time crooks and, in an essence, was inspired by Italian neorealism and the French New Wave—albeit made with a shoestring budget and set in 1980s London.
Shot in the summer of 1983 and filmed in black and white, Strummer’s slightly surreal film stars his Clash bandmates, Paul Simonon—who plays the role of Earl—and Mick Jones who portrays a gangster named Socrates. The bizarre final result was, admittedly, all over the place. Lacking cohesion and clear direction, Strummer came to his senses and shelved the film for good and, in doing so, failed to explain to his bandmates why he did so.
“Let’s make a film,” said Mick Jones who, during an interview in 2005, was recalling the events of Hell W10‘s creation. “We had no other agenda there than that. Everyone put in their time without thinking about it. That was what we did on our time off; we worked! It was totally Joe [Strummer]’s idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn’t even come out.”
The final film remained locked away for years until Strummer, who was contemplating a new career in the world of cinema, let slip of his directing debut as part of an interview in 1987. “I have directed a film myself, a black and white 16mm silent movie and it was a disaster,” he said. “Luckily the laboratory that held all the negative went bankrupt and destroyed all the stock, so the world can breathe again. I shot without a script. God knows what it was about. I’m the only other one that knew, and I’m not telling.”
While the punk-noir project had people gossiping, Strummer never released the project. In 2002 however, the year that he passed away, the film was discovered on a VHS tape and handed over to long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts who re-edited the film and added a Clash-infused soundtrack.