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Transferring punk spirit to indie film

Times Staff Writer

WEARING his signature blue-tinted wraparounds and dressed in black leather against northern Utah’s paralyzing chill, Bono made a surprise appearance at the Sundance Film Festival last week, expressly to support British director Julien Temple’s new rock ‘n’ roll documentary, “Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.”

In conversation directly after a screening, the U2 frontman lavished praise on Strummer, the charismatic, deeply humanistic yet personally conflicted singer-songwriter for the Clash. The Irish rock humanitarian credited Strummer, who died in 2002, with awakening his rock ‘n’ roll ambitions when he saw the Clash play in Dublin at age 17.

“They can’t play, but they play better than anybody you ever heard,” Bono said. “At the same time, there’s this shambolic genius going on. There’s just ideas being whispered into your head, mad ideas: that music can mean something, that it can be a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

“So can rock ‘n’ roll change the world? It certainly changed my world.”

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Moreover, Bono took the opportunity to point out the commonality of the do-it-yourself ethos in punk and indie moviemaking that was on display in Sundance.

“Here we are at Sundance,” Bono said, “people are complaining, ‘This is an independent festival. It’s been taken over by market forces, etc. etc.’ It’s the same with punk rock! I personally find that interesting.”

He added: “I will say, right smack in the middle of a contradiction isn’t always a bad place to be.”

Anti-fashion is the rage at Sundance

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FOR all its pummeling energy and contradictions, punk rock has been conspicuous in many shapes and forms here over the course of Sundance’s 10-day run.

Its anti-fashion essence was evident in 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto’s consciously deconstructed look: fingerless gloves and kohl-lined eye makeup. (Leto’s band played a showcase set here last weekend, and his film, “Chapter 27,” in which he portrays John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, premiered at the festival.)

Punk’s fashion legacy also turned up in the Fred Segal “gifting” boutique -- a “swag suite” where celebrities walked off with thousands of dollars worth of free goodies -- in the replica vintage T-shirts made by Worn Free. The company offered VIPs including Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and the All-American Rejects tees designed to look like those worn by Johnny and Joey Ramone, Blondie’s Debbie Harry and the Runaways in iconic photographs of those artists from the ‘70s.

Jones, who calls himself “the Sire of Wilshire” on his Indie 103.1 (KDLD-FM) radio show, “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” broadcast live from Sundance on Monday, deadpanning his way through interviews with Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi and Julien Temple. The conversations took place beside a chairlift ferrying skiers and snowboarders from downtown Park City to the top of a mountain.

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“You don’t do that swag stuff, do you?” Jones asked Hopper. When the actor-director said he was unfamiliar with the phenomenon, Jones explained with punk aplomb: “If you’re a minor celebrity, they take you around these shops and give you stuff and then take your photo,” adding: “They’re rubbish.”

Jones’ conversations with the Sundance elite ranged widely, touching on naked snow angels, grizzly bears, panic attacks and altitude sickness. But his punk sang-froid eventually succumbed to his inner movie geek.

“I loved you in ‘Fargo,’ ” Jonesy gushed to Buscemi.

Less talking,

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more screaming

THE ‘80s Los Angeles punk scene was also represented at Sundance by a film screening out of competition in the festival’s “From the Collection” series. Director W.T. Morgan’s 1986 cinema verite cult classic, “X: The Unheard Music,” chronicles the ascent of the seminal Angeleno punk band X, using concert footage, montages of ‘50s advertisements and -- in deliberate avoidance of boilerplate documentary technique -- only a few talking-head interviews.

For his part, Julien Temple has become English punk rock’s foremost filmographer; his credit list includes the two Sex Pistols documentaries, “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” (1980) and “The Filth and the Fury” (2000), which also premiered at Sundance.

So why return to the subject with “The Future Is Unwritten”?

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“Punk has a ferocious honesty to it that still echoes down the decades,” Temple said. “The spirit of punk is saying, ‘Stand up for yourself. Question everything. Do it yourself. You have to fight to retain your soul.’ People still crave that spirit.”

chris.lee@latimes.com


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