Film Review: Crock of Gold celebrates storytelling & the craic

Shane MacGowan is an artist specialising in Irish cream and the craic. The Pogues’ former front man is a brilliant raconteur, even if his body now seems rather battle-hardened. This documentary film is a detailed mosaic and in-depth look at this punk poet’s hedonistic life and his remarkable career.

Documentarian, Julien Temple (The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) directs this film, even though he doesn’t have much opportunity to interview the subject. McGowan is now aged 62 and looks incredibly fragile, slumped to one side in a wheelchair. He slurs his words so much that he requires subtitles, so there is a challenge even if he wanted to talk. As it turns out, MacGowan is a reluctant interviewee and most of his modern day footage is based around his sinking pints with his mates.

Among those sharing a drink with MacGowan are Johnny Depp (who doubles as one of the film’s producers) and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream fame. Former members of The Pogues do not appear but the audience are treated to candid interviews with MacGowan’s father, sister, and wife, Victoria Mary Clarke. One thing’s for sure, this is no conventional narrative about a garden-variety musician.

Temple devotes quite a bit of airtime to MacGowan’s colourful childhood. He was born in England but spent his youth (or is that misspent youth?) in Ireland. He began drinking and smoking at the age of six. He was also enamoured with the Catholic mass and contemplated becoming a priest. MacGowan’s family moved to London when he was a boy and as a teenager he went to his first Sex Pistols gig. MacGowan was already legendary before becoming a musician – he is seen pogoing at the former’s gig in the film. He was also photographed after being bottled.

MacGowan still has a fine wit and The Pogues’ lyrics are nothing short of poetry. A lot of their music is played here and audiences will enjoy this unique blend of traditional Celtic sounds and grungy punk rock. Temple does an excellent job of providing context throughout the film. We learn about some of Ireland’s history as well as the subject’s political beliefs (Republican politician, Gerry Adams is interviewed). The visuals are augmented by some archive film footage (à la The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle intoxicating animations from Ralph Steadman.

The film culminates in MacGowan’s 60th birthday concert where the likes of Nick Cave and Bono celebrate the man’s legacy. Temple does not offer audiences with a hagiography – he includes the truth, acid trips, wart and all. Sometimes this means moments of fine comedy and high drama and at other points pure melancholy and joy. This film is messy but it’s also so darned human in that it’s complicated and not easily tied up in a bow.

Crock of Gold puts the spotlight on an unapologetic hedonist with a lust for life. Fans of MacGowan’s are in for a wild, rollicking ride through this heady party. The result is so uproarious and electric that we really all should charge our glasses in honour. Bottling however, is optional.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan opens in cinemas on December 17.

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