A Personal Journey

In LET FURY HAVE THE HOUR, D’Ambrosio stitches together the personalities and impassioned thoughts of 50 diverse iconoclasts of contemporary culture – including Chuck D, Shepard Fairey, Lewis Black, Tom Morello, Ian MacKaye, Billy Bragg, Eve Ensler, Wayne Kramer, Hari Kunzru, Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Streb, Tommy Guerrero, and many more. But the film is equally his own personal story.

An acclaimed author and multi-media artist in his own right, D’Ambrosio’s journey began in his own rough-hewn youth, when his simultaneous discovery of skateboarding and punk rock blew his then compacted world wide open. He’d grown up in a tight-knit, working-class Philly neighborhood, the son of an Italian bricklayer — and a first-generation American often struck by the disconnect between the humble dreams of his parents and the reality of a culture around him increasingly focused on consumption and individualism. Surrounded by people who seemed to have been left out of the prosperous American vision – people with important stories to tell and fervent ideas to share –he felt a rising fury, along with a growing belief that something better was possible.

That fuel met the fire when D’Ambrosio began discovering the links between art, music and a skate culture that was about literally transforming the streets into something more accessible and exhilaratingly beautiful. That’s also when he discovered there were other people — people all around the world — diving into a way of being that draws no distinction between art and life. They weren’t just punks and skaters but also writers, painters, poets, singers, songwriters, rappers, acrobats, dancers, even professors, scientists and political activists. He never looked back.

“I was discovering art, skateboarding and punk rock all at the same time,” he recalls. “As an immigrant kid and a bricklayer’s son, it opened up a completely new world for me. It was the Reagan 80s and it seemed at the time, that consumerism was replacing compassion. People were being told that being compassionate and caring about others was a sign of weakness. But what I discovered in punk and skate culture was a world that was about being human, about embracing the full messiness of life. There was a real sense of honest truth to this world. And the most important thing to me was that it was all about freedom of expression — expressing yourself in a community of other people expressing themselves. That felt very powerful.”

Inspired, D’Ambrosio took his own leap into words and images. He would go on to write for numerous major publications, author several books (including the acclaimed A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears) and produce more than 15 documentaries, films, videos and visual art pieces. He then started a project about a man who had deeply influenced his own life and work: the complex and mesmerizingly humane frontman of the seminal British punk band The Clash, aka “The Only Band That Matters,” Joe Strummer. But just a few months after D’Ambrosio met Strummer, who was in the midst of his own mid-life transformation after leaving The Clash, he tragically died of an undiagnosed heart defect.

Still roused by Strummer’s extraordinary life and life’s work, D’Ambrosio published his first edition of Let Fury Have The Hour: The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer, a collection of essays not just about Strummer but about the way his art, music and spirit reverberated through many other artists, musicians and cultural influencers from a vast variety of fields. (The new edition of the book Let Fury Have The Hour: Joe Strummer, Punk and the Movement that Shook the World will be released in conjunction with the film.)

To D’Ambrosio, this was creative-response in action – and the more D’Ambrosio experienced it with so many fascinating collaborators the more he felt this larger story needed to be told. At the urging of actor, filmmaker and friend Tim Robbins, he began to explore making a film as an offshoot from the success of the book. But what had begun with Joe Strummer had now expanded into realms far beyond the expected. And what had started for D’Ambrosio in the 1980s was emerging as a movement in 2012, as the whole world was rocked by demonstrations championing the democratic impulses of a generation willing to put themselves on the line for fairness and freedom.

So D’Ambrosio started making a list of some of his favorite “creative-responders,” which led in turn to more than 50 free-form, open-ended, intensive interviews that became the foundation of his film. He would later overlay the interviews with a hand-stitched, kaleidoscopic collage that turned the film into a visual and visceral adventure. But the web of voices remained the soul of the enterprise.

“Artists started reaching out to me as I was writing the book and after the book came out; and suddenly, I was collaborating with people like Wayne Kramer, John Sayles, Tom Morello – people who had a lot of influence on my life,” D’Ambrosio recalls. “They were all really interested in this idea of creative-response. And what I found when I started talking to them on camera is that they had all talked about their work in interviews before but they had never had a chance to talk about this idea of how they creatively respond to the world and what that means to them,” he says. “I found that they were not only excited to talk about it — they were moved by talking about. Some people even shed tears during our interviews. And they told so many amazing stories that I felt they needed to be collected in some very accessible way. That was the basis for the film.”

He goes on: “The further I went, the broader it became, because creative-response is not just something that artists do – it’s something that scientists do, that philosophers do, that thinkers in every sphere of political and social life do. Creative-response is reflective of the whole breadth of the human spirit.”