RUDE BOY by Jack Hazan, David Mingay (1980)Although Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s 1980 film RUDE BOY does have a narrative, it is really more of a rockumentary on The Clash before they broke America. The film follows Clash fan Ray Gange as he escapes the dole and a dead-end job selling jazz mags in Soho to roadie for the band on their “Clash on Parole” Tour of the UK.
The backdrop for the film is oppressively grim - with graffiti-strewn inner city tower blocks, growing support for the National Front, heavy-handed police and the rise of the Iron Lady, it is no wonder that the UK’s jobless millions felt they had no future. In this environment the political polemic of “London Calling” and “White Riot” make perfect sense.
Ray, a real-life Clash roadie, makes for an unconventional focal point. Spending much of his time slouching around in a somnambulant drunken stupor, he only really speaks to slur semi-audible compliments towards the band, which, although genuinely heartfelt, are usually met with indifference or abuse. On one occasion, Topper Headon inexplicably breaks from a light-hearted conversation with Ray to beat the crap out of him.
But for all its narrative faults and camera shy performances, there is an anarchic unpredictability about the film that makes for compelling viewing. The production notes on the DVD reveal that Strummer was less than happy about being filmed to begin with (using language I can’t repeat here) and this sense of confrontation and latent menace is evident throughout.
Flimsy story aside (including a seemingly unconnected subplot about a police sting on a pick-pocketing scam), this is a bit of a must-own for Clash fans. There are numerous incendiary live performances throughout the film, as well as rehearsal and offstage banter with the band, including coverage of their infamous pigeon-shooting case. Strummer plays as if wired to the mains throughout, and there are DVD-extra performances of “The American Civil War” and “White Riot” as a bonus.
It seems incredible to think that the drab greyness of the time was only 20-odd years ago, but RUDE BOY will effortlessly transport you back to that era and to the punk front line. Whether that sounds like a fun trip is up to you.