The title of Antonino D’Ambrosio’s Let Fury Have the Hour takes off from a lyric from “Clampdown,” a song from the Clash’s 1979 masterpiece London Calling: “Let fury have the hour/Anger can be power/Do you know that you can use it?” D’Ambrosio’s film, a kind of cinematic companion piece to the book of the same name that he compiled and edited, is an unabashed celebration of the ethos punk rock represents: the power of art not only to express one’s own dissatisfaction with established societal norms, but to also channel that anger constructively to provoke new ways of thinking in others and jump-start change. It’s deeply ironic, then, that this message is the driving force of a film that mostly preaches to a choir rather than inspiring genuine mind-opening thought.
D’Ambrosio’s debut feature isn’t just a collection of interviews with various artists; it also offers historical context in which to situate their brands of creative activism. The filmmaker traces the rise of the creative counterculture he sees today back to the 1980s, with the rise of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the turn toward individualism and consumerism that came about during their respective reigns—a stark contrast to the sense of solidarity that was prominent during the Depression and post-World War II eras. Amid the reactionary soullessness of the ’80s, an underground movement that D’Ambrosio calls “creative response” formed during this time, a group of artists of different stripes devoting themselves to having their voices of protest heard as loudly and vehemently as possible. D’Ambrosio not only asks many of these artists about the art they create, but also about their influences; thus, the film is also in part a rough history of underground art from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, covering the likes of punk rock, reggae, hip-hop, and street art, among others.
On a political level, Let Fury Have the Hour is far from a Godardian dialectic, so the view of history that emerges is, to say the least, blinkered—predictably left-leaning in ways that seem to be shared universally by all the artists and critics D’Ambrosio interviews. This one-sided view of history was probably unavoidable, but it also suggests a film that will ultimately play more as a confirmation of one’s biases than as the kind of challenge to preconceived notions that its interview subjects regularly issue to their audiences; those who aren’t sympathetic to its liberal political bent will most likely find the film of limited interest (however exuberant its soundtrack). The film, then, plays best as a celebratory survey of an underground art scene D’Ambrosio clearly reveres—and for others, it may play as a nostalgia trip as well, with the likes of, say, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Public Enemy’s Chuck D weighing in on the proceedings as if elder statesman presiding over successors taking up causes they helped start. However it may play for different members of the audience, though, and as bracing as its message undoubtedly is, there’s no escaping the feel this film exudes of being little more than an 87-minute back-patting session.