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This chapter traces the evolution of Stone’s political consciousness and his articulation of America’s twentieth century outlook by revisiting JFK, the film that placed Stone centre-stage in this assault on establishment doctrine and routine. It then considers how that critique was honed in his subsequent feature films – W. - documentary work and in particular Comandante (2003) and South of the Border (2010). The chapter also revisits the debate about drama as history as well as locating Stone’s documentary work within that genre’s tradition and trends over recent years including the increasing presence of feature film aesthetics and entertainment values.

in The cinema of Oliver Stone
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By any standard, Stone has been a product of war; intrigued by it, physically and psychologically marked by it, propelled to action by it, and galvanised in opposition to it. The chapter takes Platoon as its starting point before considering how ideas of war have informed the construction and reception of later films like World Trade Center (2006) and W. (2008) as well as the Untold History (2012) documentary series. Stone’s perspective on war provides a firm footing from which to interpret not just his films or the wider Hollywood machinery, but to think more carefully about the American polity and its constant, historical and reiterating focus on the mantras of ‘just war’ and the ‘war on terror’

in The cinema of Oliver Stone

A central attribute of The Clash was from the very outset a curiosity about, and passion for, musical forms well beyond the confines of the stylistically constrained and overwhelmingly white early punk scene. This chapter suggests that the songs the band recorded together represent a critical moment in which it was imagined that a racially divided UK might have a multicultural, postcolonial future. The engagement of The Clash with reggae in particular widened the cultural horizons of their mainly white audience, while their endorsement of Rock Against Racism was an important gesture at a time when the punk movement was under threat of infiltration from the far right. In addition, the work and spirit of the band paved the way for other artists exploring multicultural forms, not least those on the Two Tone label. This influence remains undiminished today and the chapter documents the many contemporary black British artists who have covered songs by The Clash. As the authors of an important and enduring multicultural dialogue, the band should be acknowledged then as among the authors of the ‘outernationalisation’ of an ever more racially diverse British society.

in Working for the clampdown
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The Clash, Bologna and Italian punx

The political disposition of The Clash was a matter that divided opinion from the very outset. For their fans, it was the songs that the band crafted together that provided the spark for an entirely different viewpoint on the world. For their detractors, in contrast, the group were often considered to be merely another cog in the machine of the culture industries, and were, therefore, part of the problem rather than the solution. In this chapter, the authors focus on one particular moment when these countervailing readings of The Clash came into sharp relief. In the summer of 1980 the band played a free outdoor concert in the centre of Bologna. While the gig drew an enormous audience of enthusiastic fans, it was also the setting for protests from local radicals self-styled as punx. The chapter traces these threads through the recollections of some of those who were associated in different ways with the Bologna concert. Their disparate renditions of what happened that night and its significance offer some insight into the enduring facility of The Clash to mean entirely different things to different people.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash in New York, in myth and reality

While the early songs written by The Clash were firmly rooted in certain neighbourhoods in West London, over time the imaginary of the band would become ever more closely connected to the fabled streets of New York. In the early 1980s, as the four-piece faced incessant criticism from their erstwhile champions in the British music press, they would find a rather warmer reception from American audiences. In this chapter, the author offers a critical exploration of the complex relationship between The Clash and their adopted town of New York. One of the more progressive outcomes of the American odysseys that dominated the latter half of the group’s career was their enthusiasm for emergent and multicultural musical forms. They would, for instance, become the first white artists to record a song inspired by the then nascent black American genre of hip hop. Although The Clash would remain sincere champions of a multicultural society, the chapter casts doubts on whether this message had any real impact on an audience that was overwhelmingly white and would only become more so when the release of Combat Rock confirmed the band as a major stadium act in the United States.

in Working for the clampdown
Against the corporate voice

At the heart of the mythology of punk rock is the notion that it was driven solely by a ‘do it yourself’ ethic that denounced the technical virtuosity of the most celebrated recording artists that came before. Drawing on the first-hand experience of a former manager of the band, this chapter suggests that the success of The Clash originated not in this much-lauded DIY culture but rather in a much more conventional and traditional dedication to their craft. That the band were able to sustain a commercially successful and artistically innovative career for so long was because they were absolutely committed to striving for ever greater levels of musical excellence. This commitment ensured that for all the compromises they were required to make, The Clash retained a palpable ‘authenticity’ that enabled them to challenge the artistic constraints of the ‘corporate voice’.

in Working for the clampdown

This chapter seeks to examine the turbulent political context in which The Clash recorded their enduring body of work. The songs that the band crafted together provide a compelling account of the rise and ultimate triumph of the neoliberal project as the 1970s turned into the 1980s. While The Clash were one of the critical voices raised against this dramatic turn to the right, their political power was always compromised by their proximity to a corporate world they claimed to despise. As many bands before and since have learned, the culture industries have a facility for incorporation that diminishes the political valence and authenticity of even the most critical artists. In spite of the constraints of the corporate environment in which they were operating, however, The Clash wrote scores of songs that have retained a political resonance even today. The political power of the band derives ironically from previous cultural movements that they often claimed to loathe. In large measure, the enduring influence of The Clash comes from their rechanneling of the 1960s counterculture and the band should be seen then as heirs to that prior movement of radical cultural dissent.

in Working for the clampdown
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The Clash, Gary Foley, punk politics and Indigenous Australian activism

One of the abiding controversies that attends The Clash centres on their ‘authenticity’ as a political band. While some recall seeing the band live as a moment that altered their perspective on the world, others have dismissed their politics as posturing framed by a certain cinematic version of outlaw chic. In this chapter, the author leans towards the former, more optimistic reading of The Clash’s cultural politics. The focus here is on the band’s 1982 tour of Australia during which they championed the cause of Aboriginal rights. Each night during their cover of the reggae number ‘Armagideon Time’, the group would segue into an instrumental section during which activist Gary Foley would take the stage and address the predominantly white audience. The attendant media attention for these moments was sparse and it remains difficult to establish whether they had any real political impact. That The Clash were willing to provide a space for the airing of what were at the time controversial views serves to underline that here was a band that, for all their shortcomings, had a genuine concern for the promotion of human rights and global justice.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash in 1977

That moment when punk first flowered in the UK is so heavily mediated that it is difficult to separate its real meaning from the various fictions that surround it. In this chapter, it is suggested that we need to pare back these multiple mediations in search of the genuinely revolutionary spirit that was abroad in 1977. Due not least to their celebrated synergy with reggae, The Clash attained a political power in that early moment that they would never attain again over the rest of their career. While this flash of creativity would prove to be short-lived, its brevity was central to its potency. As Walter Benjamin suggests, moments such as punk interrupt the continuity of capitalist history, their momentary flowering leaving traces that can provide the substance of future cultural struggles. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that we need to bear this in mind, to recognise that the early songs that The Clash wrote in one period of geopolitical crisis in the distant past might yet prove the inspiration for another generation in this current age of turbulence.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash as my ‘true fiction’

Over time a growing body of cultural artefacts – documentaries, biographies, compilations – have emerged seeking to tell the ‘truth’ about The Clash. In these competing renditions of the band, one of the voices that has often been drowned out is that of the fans. Drawing on the author’s own experience of running away from home to follow The Clash on tour, this chapter seeks to capture what the band meant to those who witnessed their legendary live performances, typically without the privilege of backstage access. This autobiographical ‘true fiction’ offers a perspective that underlines one of the most important affirmations of the group’s much-disputed ‘authenticity’. While the members of The Clash were often unforgiving to one another, they were unremittingly generous to their travelling fans. The chapter also suggests that the focus on metropolitan London in many accounts overlooks the importance of suburban centres in nurturing the early punk scene. A case in point is that of High Wycome, a setting neglected in the standard accounts of the period, but which in fact deserves its own place in the story of the subculture.

in Working for the clampdown