Julien Temple’s new film is a terrific look at the life and work of Shane MacGowan – and here’s our review of the movie.
Films are most powerful when they change you, or how you see a part of the world or someone within it. Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan does exactly that: for anyone only vaguely familiar with MacGowan and his biggest hit, ‘Fairytale Of New York’, this is a film that both educates and entertains.
The film documents MacGowan’s life, from birth to the present day, using a mix of animation, archive footage, recreated scenes from MacGowan’s early life, and interviews from past and present day. This cocktail feels chaotic, but enjoyably so: interview clips from over the years are cut together when recalling particular incidents in MacGowan’s life; Blake-inspired illustrations of acid trips clash with schoolyard stories told in the style of the Beano. It reflects MacGowan’s own life: an introduction to performing when he was three, reading material including Marx, Trotsky and James Joyce, and an upheaval from Ireland to England are just the start of the many twists and turns his path has taken.
It’s not all merry cartoons and amusingly adult literary choices. MacGowan describes the near-constant presence of death and violence in his life, how he was encouraged to drink and smoke from an early age, and how he had his first mental breakdown at the age of six. MacGowan is well known for his drinking, often performing drunk and slurring his speech in interviews over the course of his career. From the outside, this looks like a path of determined self-destruction. However, MacGowan, as well as his friends and family, refutes this idea: drinking has in fact kept life bearable. He is determined to live, not die.
To feel sorry for MacGowan would feel patronising, and this film isn’t maudlin or pitying – rather it’s an unflinching, celebrational portrayal of him, warts and all. He swears and curses through his more recent interviews, collapsing friend Johnny Depp and wife Victoria Mary Clarke into fits of laughter, and is consistently, uncompromisingly himself. As I watched, I warmed towards MacGowan – not just for his ‘silver tongue’ and slow, perfectly timed humour, but also because Crock Of Gold is a portrait of a true artist. For MacGowan, it’s the music above all.
I started watching Crock Of Gold with a vague, minimal knowledge of MacGowan, and – of course – ‘Fairytale’ in mind. By the end of the film, I wanted to listen to MacGowan’s entire back catalogue, read Ulysses and watch a Beckett play. This is an extraordinary, enlightening film, not to be missed.
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