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  Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan Fall From Grace With God
Year: 2020
Director: Julien Temple
Stars: Shane MacGowan, Johnny Depp, Siobhan MacGowan, Maurice MacGowan, Victoria Mary Clarke, Gerry Adams, Ann Scanlon, Bobby Gillespie, The Pogues, Bono, Nick Cave, Paolo Ikonomi, Sinead O'Connor
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Shane MacGowan was a big part of the London punk rock scene of the late nineteen-seventies, yet though he was born in Royal Tunbridge Wells, his heart will always belong to Ireland where he spent most of his early childhood before his family once again moved to Britain. Those formative periods were like an idyll for him, one he longed to return to even at the age of ten years old, and have haunted his work as a songwriter and performer ever since, for that time was when he learned to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco, which as he eventually outgrew his strong religious grounding became his defining impulses all the way down the decades until his sixties: this is where he is now.

His fans would like to think that those tunes he composed, those lyrics he concocted, define him, but now, unable to write, he lives to drink and smoke... Crock of Gold was one of the pieces of the punk jigsaw that director and documentarian Julien Temple had been putting together in his films for a long time, and though some may question just how vital MacGowan was to the scene that had included The Sex Pistols and The Clash, among others, the director made a pretty decent case that punk in London, at least, needed a mascot or two and Shane was one of those, no matter that he went on to plough a very different furrow. Nevertheless, that outlaw spirit was present in his lyrics, celebrating Irish culture, tackling political issues, finding a curious romance in some down and dirty subjects.

Yet most of all he was obsessing over the drinking that had, by the point we catch up with him, had gone some way to destroying the health of his body. For that reason, the fact you were watching a troubled soul on a downward spiral of substance abuse that somehow had not resulted in his death, you may not share the film's admiration of the drinking culture MacGowan had embraced so hard. He's obviously an intelligent guy in his interviews, once you get him onto the right subject, and can talk passionately on those politics and injustices that have bothered him enough to engage with them completely in song, but his slurred speech, Ernie from Sesame Street laugh, and general air of a man who could keel over at any minute tends to undercut his message, rendering him a parody of that detestable stereotype, the Irish drunk.

Not that Ireland has a monopoly on drinking culture, but seeing him like this makes you wonder what more he could have done with his life had he not succumbed so often to the booze, and latterly, with crushing inevitability, heroin. Temple assembled a mass, you could say a morass, of footage of his man, all thrown together in vaguely chronological order, that ranged from a visit from Gerry Adams where they reassuringly agree they're not anti-British, to interviews with his Shane's doting sister Siobhan and still-living father Maurice, to footage of him chatting with Johnny Depp (disgraced by the time this was released) and Bobby Gillespie, and a wealth of the director's trademark collages of clips to encapsulate the past he wished to highlight, taking in rowdy gigs and IRA bombing campaigns as if they were cut from the same cloth.

Along the way, MacGowan bristles at the mention of Fairytale of New York, which he posits as a tribute to Kirsty MacColl seeing as how he hates it now (those tired of it as a Christmas fixture of the airwaves may ruefully agree, but there's plenty you can say that about). And in the opening we see him being obnoxious to someone offscreen, which may be key, to the oddly ambiguous quality this barrage of material had in its overall effect. This actually sets up that he might not be that great a guy, and the nightmarish lows he has suffered with drink, drugs and violence contribute to what seems to be an unintended mood of "Should we be celebrating or mourning this man?" The back catalogue of The Pogues was raided, yet not as much as you might expect, yes we saw concerts and a few television appearances, but the band themselves were never heard from, again suggesting they could not bear to talk about Shane anymore, no matter how he defined them (though they did have a hit without him in the nineties). Never less than enthralling, but the mixed emotions were assuredly there in every frame.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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