Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan

We descend upon a mythical, animated Ireland to find one of the most Irish of its citizens, the man, born on Christmas day, who would write the greatest Christmas song of the 21st century after having ‘saved traditional Irish music.’  Writer/director Julian Temple (“The Filth and the Fury”) enlists friends, like Johnny Depp, politicians, like former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and family, like sister Siobhan and wife Victoria, to draw the man out on multiple subjects in “Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.”

Laura's Review: A-

Those who haven’t seen MacGowan since his Pogues performing days may be in for a shock at his appearance.  MacGowan, with teeth that look like broken glass, the crazy eyes of Johnny Rotten and a laugh that sounds like a dentist’s saliva ejector, exhibits the physical deterioration of Keith Richards’ Dorian Gray painting (a fall in 2015 which fractured his pelvis has kept him wheelchair bound).  But there is no problem with the Irish punk poet’s brain, nor his capacity for cigarettes and alcohol, and it shouldn’t be surprising that he proves quite the raconteur.

His childhood in a Tipperary farmhouse alone is full of delightful anecdotes about daily downings of two bottles of stout by the age of five, a rigorous life of hardship coupled with an appreciation for nature’s beauty (accompanied by appropriate imagery by Temple and family photographs provided by Siobhan) and playing war games where he was always a ‘good guy’ (i.e., the IRA vs. the Black and Tans or the Viet Cong).  MacGowan finds great beauty in the Roman Catholic Mass (he will have a brief flirtation with atheism later) and embraces his country’s literature.  Well, except for Yeats who he calls a ‘West Brit.’

But his idyllic Irish childhood ends when the family moves to London and Shane’s unhappiness there will fuel his career.  Shane’s intelligence is recognized with a full scholarship to the posh Westminster School, but he’s thrown out at age 12 for selling drugs to his wealthier English classmates.  Dad Maurice tells us that’s when ‘he lost him’ to Credence Clearwater Revival and sniffing glue.  Shane went so downhill, he eventually landed in Bedlam.  After a six month stint there, he went and saw the Sex Pistols and the rest is history (he also famously had part of his ear bitten off at a Clash show).

‘The idea was to give tradition a kick in the ass,’ Shane tells us of The Pogues evolution, the band originally called Pogue Mahone (‘kiss my arse’) until the BBC objected.  Tired of being a second class citizen in England, MacGowan gave the Brits their Paddys with an attitude, forging a musical identity for his community just as IRA activity heated up.

The film is jam packed with music as Temple and his subject chart the rise of The Pogues up through their crowning achievement, ‘Fairytale of New York,’ performed with the late Kirsty McColl.  In a story as old as time, the resulting fame also began the band’s downfall beginning with an exhausting touring schedule set by a greedy manager.  Newer music divorced from MacGowan’s Irish roots exhibits his band’s decline, but even here the story continues to astonish and amuse, a hallucinating Shane, convinced he was being called by Maori warriors, painting himself and his entire New Zealand hotel room blue.

Temple’s approach here will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his early Sex Pistols film “The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle,” but it is significantly more sophisticated.  As MacGowan relates modern Irish history and culture from the time of The Great Hunger, Temple finds archival footage and nostalgic sepia toned rural reveries to accompany it.  Family photographs are given graphic retro photo album framing, archival political and concert footage placed within old TV sets.  The film’s only drawback is its length as it just begins to overstay its welcome before springing back for its denouement.  The documentary is capped with the event that suggested it – MacGowan’s 60th birthday celebration where Bono, Nick Cave and Depp perform and the president of Ireland presents a lifetime achievement award. 

“Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan” is an all encompassing document of the myriad aspects which comprise its subject.  And MacGowan leaves us with words of wisdom – ‘It’s probably best to drink not quite enough, you know?’

Robin's Review: B

"Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan" is in theaters one day only, 12/1/2020, before beginning virtual screenings on 12/4/2020.