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Movie Review: Rude Boy

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Rude Boy is both a film about The Clash and a film about everything but The Clash. Half concert film, half narrative documentary and all frustrating, Rude Boy is an odd and unsuccessful centaur work. This isn't to say it's uninteresting, but rather that the points of interest aren't enough to sustain a feature film.

This much seems apparent from the structure of the film. Ostensibly a freeform look at the life and world of Ray (Ray Gange), a disaffected lad who drifts into a roadie gig with The Clash, Rude Boy alternates scenes from Ray's life with concert and studio footage of The Clash. The performance scenes are electrifying, capturing as they do a band coming into their own and nearing the peak of their creative powers (it was filmed in 1978 and released in 1979; London Calling would follow a year later). The scenes with Ray are… well… not so electrifying. The non-musical scenes, interesting at first, quickly descend into drudgery when it becomes clear that they lead nowhere except into the slack-jawed, drunken mind of Ray. What should be a crackling performance document keeps being tripped up by the makeshift narrative, and the constant interruption of the film's flow renders it a bit dull.

To be fair, there's a level on which this is intentional. The overarching intent of directors Jack Hazan and David Mingay points toward a desire to simultaneously understand and demythologize the punk rock lifestyle. The former part comes off well, especially in the film's early sections. Hazan and Mingay do a smashing job of depicting the crumbling and divided England of the late '70s. The England seen here is a drab and depressing place, a land of drunks and demonstrations, of seedy sex shops and bored bobbies. In other words, it's the kind of environment that breeds extreme points of view, whether the radical-right National Front movement or the far-left politics of bands like The Clash. It's also the kind of environment that leads to disaffection, anger, and disengagement with society – all symptoms of the burgeoning punk movement.

So that's all well and good, but it's the second aspect of Hazan and Mingay's approach that dampens Rude Boy. Ray is a crude, shiftless lout given to unintelligible muttering (when indeed he bothers to speak at all) and near-constant inebriation; the guys in the band, when not gigging or recording, don't do much besides kill time and wait for the next gig or studio session. It's a film of banality and boredom punctuated by brief moments of energy; its portraits of aimless youths and road-weary musicians feel truthful enough, but the cumulative effect is enervating. While there's a good deal of great footage here (the scene where Joe Strummer tracks vocals for a song that would eventually become "All the Young Punks" is amazing), Rude Boy shares a bit too much common ground with the rarely-seen Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues – both succeed in the dubious accomplishment of deglamorizing the scene they depict so thoroughly that they become a chore to watch.

About the DVD: Looking at the extras, it becomes obvious that those involved with the disc's production too felt that Rude Boy was more valuable as a concert film than a proper piece of narrative cinema. The most interesting feature on the DVD is the "Just Play The Clash" option. This gives you the opportunity to skip over the character stuff and go straight to the incendiary live footage of The Clash. There's also a Clash photo gallery, two extra live bits that weren't used in the film (one of them a version of "White Riot," for those who have issues with the Jimmy-Pursey-guest-starring rendition that shows up midfilm) and BBC performances of "Clash City Rockers" and "Tommy Gun."

For people who want to learn something of the film total, there are included interviews with Hazan, Mingay, Gange, and former Clash road manager Johnny Green. Lastly, there's a few more deleted scenes that have nothing to do with music and a vintage trailer. The video quality is decent, given the age and DIY nature of the film; the sound, on the other hand, is expectedly spectacular.

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