Joe Strummer’s Surreal Gangster Film Surfaces On YouTube

By Tobias Handke

Joe Strummer is a legend.

The frontman of iconic British rockers The Clash not only helped define the UK punk-rock scene but was responsible for one of the genre’s seminal albums, London Calling. He also directed one of the strangest short films I’ve ever seen.

Strummer first got a taste for the film industry during 1980 when he and his fellow band members appeared in the rock and roll mockumentary, Rude Boy. A box office bomb quickly disowned by The Clash (they received no payment for their part), the experience inspired Strummer to write and direct his own film.

‘Let’s make a film!’ Clash guitarist Mick Jones recalled in a 2005 interview. ‘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’s (Strummer) idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn’t even come out!’

Strummer on set.

The making of Hell W10 happened as The Clash began to self-destruct in 1983. Drummer Topper Headon had already been kicked out of the band for his rampant drug abuse while guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon were barely on speaking terms. Despite the chaos, Strummer managed to get the remaining members on board, shooting the flick in black and white on 16mm film.

Strummer: still on set

Hell W10 is an incredibly weird film harking back to the silent film era of the 20s. The plot is all over the shop, with the main story revolving around a small-time gangster and musician named Earl (Simonon), who finds himself in the crosshairs of local crime boss Socrates (Jones) after stealing his stash of porn.

The film was never officially released and Strummer thought it was lost forever until a VHS copy surfaced in 2002, a year after his death. The film made its way to long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts, who re-edited the footage and added a Clash-centric soundtrack. The film surprisingly showed up on YouTube in all its glory an eon later for fans to finally view.

Piss break: Strummer.

As much as I’d like to say it ranks up there with British gangster classics such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, this 50-minute mind-fuck is hard to get your head around. None of The Clash are great actors and there’s a lot of surreal scenes, with the best thing about Hell W10 being the addition of Clash rarities as part of the soundtrack. Anyways, check it out below if you got a spare 40-something minutes.

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