Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan
Shane MacGowan, Gerry Adams, Johnny Depp
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…a wonderful tale of God-given talent and Devil-bound excess.
“The Irish are a very literary people,” says Shane MacGowan in the superb documentary, Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, “even when they’re illiterate.” It’s a fitting description: many of Ireland’s most extraordinary and celebrated wordsmiths were also deliriously, monstrously messed up, despite their facility for creating great art. Of course, they could read and write, but there’s a raggedness to the likes of Brendan Behan and James Joyce that speaks more of the streets than the university courtyard. Shane MacGowan fits into that lineage almost too comfortably. With his band The Pogues, MacGowan (who was born in England to Irish parents, and spent his childhood across the two nations) took traditional Celtic music and injected it with the furious energy and rebellious attitude of punk. In one fell swoop, the band put Irish music on the world stage in the early 1980s. MacGowan soon became famous for his unconventional looks; his gift for writing intelligent, poetic lyrics (The Pogues’ resound with historical references and social commentary); and his crippling fondness for drugs and alcohol.
Re-employing the unconventional talking heads style that he utilised so brilliantly on The Filth And The Fury and Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, music stalwart Julien Temple crafts an extraordinary dive into the world of Shane MacGowan with the rousing, spirited but ultimately profoundly sad Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane McGowan. Along with stacks of archival footage and theme-appropriate, “cut-up” style stock footage and movie clips, Temple is gifted a wonderful anchor in the form of MacGowan himself. Now a blurry, slurred wreck confined to a wheelchair due to his renowned excesses (and a horrible fall in 2015 which fractured his pelvis), MacGowan also reverberates with charisma and righteous anger; he’s bowed but not completely broken, and he makes for a compelling figure at every turn.
Teamed for chats (per the title) with the likes of Irish political figurehead Gerry Adams; friend (and the film’s producer) Johnny Depp; Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie (who looks positively genteel next to McGowan); and his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke (“You can be a right bitch,” MacGowan intones at one point, “but you’re a very nice person…and beautiful…and statuesque”), MacGowan takes the viewer on a tour through his life, from his rough-and-ready childhood (where he was introduced to alcohol at the age of six by an aunt who believed that children could do whatever they liked as long as they went to mass) through the late-seventies punk scene, and onto fame with The Pogues and the release of one of the biggest Christmas songs of all time (“Fairytale Of New York”, performed with the late Kirsty MacColl).
Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan is a wonderful tale of God-given talent and Devil-bound excess. It’s funny, infuriating (it’s easy to share MacGowan’s anger over what The British have done in Ireland over the centuries), heartbreaking and hopeful – an accurately honest but appropriately smeared and foggy portrait of a deeply flawed but nevertheless somewhat heroic man who has constantly lilted and staggered on the edge of greatness.