I Need A Dodge! – Film Review

Poignant doc sheds some much-needed light on Joe Strummer's 'wilderness years' in Spain in the 1980s

In 1985, a 33-year-old Joe Strummer parked his secondhand Dodge Barreiros in an underground garage in Madrid and caught a flight to London for the birth of his second daughter, Lola. When he returned, he’d forgotten where he’d left it and even after making a lighthearted appeal on Spanish radio years later, he never saw it again. It’s an amusing enough anecdote, but a rather slight thing to hang a documentary on, particularly when the subject is someone like Strummer, whose life has already been extensively chronicled.

I Need A Dodge! never fully explains why Barcelona-based director Nick Hall is so keen to track down the vehicle; even Strummer himself doesn’t appear to have looked especially hard for it. The car, however, is not what this film is really about: Hall’s search for it doesn’t begin in earnest until the final 15 minutes and feels like a bit of an afterthought. Instead, I Need A Dodge! explores Strummer’s relationship with Spain – a country he had felt a strong affinity with since his pre-Clash days squatting with two sisters from Malaga – and attempts to find out what Strummer was doing in Spain in the first place. “It was an escape,” explains one interviewee. “He was a man on the run. He was getting away from the tension in London, from the mess he had caused with the last formation of The Clash.”

This was an uneasy juncture in Strummer’s career: the sacking of Mick Jones, the ill-conceived assembly of The Clash MkII and the release of the much-maligned album ‘Cut The Crap’. Realising what a huge mistake he’d made in following manager Bernie Rhodes’ advice to oust Jones, Strummer withdrew from the public eye and fled to Andalucía, “to understand, to feel the pain of the mistakes of the past”. He befriended a local punk band, 091, and decided to produce an album for them. Thus began his so-called wilderness years (“Fuck that, that was our life!” his former partner Gaby Salter exclaims at one point), a little-documented period on which this film aims to shed some much-needed light.

Hall’s focus is narrow throughout – you sense there’s a larger tale to tell about these lost years, in which the Spanish sojourn would be a mere footnote – but the detail he uncovers is impressive, tracking down and talking to the musicians Strummer worked with, the bandmates he left in the lurch and the friends he made along the way. I’’s their memories of – and obvious fondness for – Strummer that bring this obscure little story to life, offering a snapshot of a man – not a rock star – looking for catharsis in the most unlikely of places.

Do they find the car? Let’s just say it was never really what they were looking for.