Joe Strummer and his friend actor/filmmaker Dick Rude had initially planned to make a film about the former as a means of promoting his 2001 release, Global a Go-Go. Rude and his camera followed Strummer through some of the promotion for the record, culminating with a fall 2002 tour of Japan. Rude’s work-in-progress would become a sort of visual epitaph that December, when Strummer died of a heart attack.
But the energetic live performance footage and vibrant conversations that Rude captured on film will soon be viewable in Let’s Rock Again!, which will make its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City next month.
Rude and Strummer first met in 1986 during post-production for Sid and Nancy, in which Rude had a role and Strummer’s music was used. More recently he began making music videos, including a Red Hot Chili Peppers DVD and a tour film for Blonde Redhead. “I went around town trying to seek representation as a director,” he says. “I was given some honest criticism and most of it was that I was that I was gonna have to hustle my friends for bigger and better jobs or just make my own film on spec. One day I woke up and thought, ‘Well, I have the money and equipment, why not make a film about something I’m interested in?’ So I called Joe.” Once Strummer completed work on Go-Go, he asked Rude if he was interested in joining him.
Let’s Rock offers very different portraits of Strummer’s welcome in Japan, where some fans are unable to control their sobbing when they meet him, and in the U.S., where for a few minutes he tries to handout homemade flyers to oblivious passersby on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. Throughout, Strummer’s cheery wit shines through. “I was really pleased about the way the film came out in that regard,” Rude says. “Initially we made this movie so we could get his music out to more people. As it went on, I wanted to show what he was talking about — going from hero to zero and then back again. But what I ended up achieving that was an intimate portrait of somebody who was a hero as a human being in a working class way. We’re looking at an ordinary guy who came across as a hero on an ordinary guy level.”
Strummer’s passing so early in the post-production phase of the film forced Rude to discipline himself to stay true to their initial vision for the format. “It was suggested that I should do something retrospective,” he says. “But I thought that would be wrong, because it’s not what we set out to do.”
Rude and Strummer’s friendship also made piecing the film together particularly difficult. “To the audience, it will be like Joe out there doing whatever he’s doing,” he says. “But to me, it’s us hanging out together. I’m not sure if it helped me or if it made it more painful, but I had to live in his memory every day. But it still came from the deepest place of love and respect and missing my best friend and my hero and my mentor and my brother and everything else that he was to me.”
But much in the way that last year’s posthumous Streetcore record gave fans one last listen to Strummer, Rude’s film has taken on an added emotional resonance as some of the last documentation of a punk legend. “I’ve been working on it in my kitchen for the past two years,” Rude says. “Early on, it never had a grand proportion to me. I just thought, ‘I’m gonna make this, and get it on some cable channels and maybe the retail market.’ But people seem to want to see it. I just think that we’re all lucky to have had him while we did.”