The voice is one long never-sobered-up slur, and the appearance — wheelchair-bound, face in need of spittle, spilled-booze or what-have-you removal — frighteningly like another modern icon.
Can it be that Irish singer singer, songwriter Shane MacGowan come has come to a “Stephen Hawking after a bender” stage in his life?
The on-the-nose title of Julien Temple‘s documentary portrait of The Pogues frontman, poet, argument-against-English/Irish dentistry and infamous Tipperary tippler is “Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.” Temple takes the endless brush-offs, barks of “stop INTERROgatin’ me” and insults. He summons MacGowan friends like Johnny Depp to pitch in and try and coax answers out of the crusty curmudgeon.
That merits a “Y’think I didn’t sleep tru dose ‘Pirates’ movies?” To which Depp, also in his cups, slurs back “You think I didn’t?”
“Yer so cute y’make me SICK, actually!” Roars of hiccuping laugher all round.
Yes, a lot of what we’re hearing is smart, sarcastic, passionate and profound. And a lot of it isn’t about his life’s pursuit of the “Crock’o Gold.” It’s the other kind of “crock.”
And oh my, do they all go through “a few rounds” in every sense of that phrase.
Using animated and live-action flashbacks to MacGowan’s childhood in Tipperary (He was born in the UK to Irish parents and spent his early years on a family farm in Ireland.), an extensive archive of decades of TV interviews, chats with his father Maurice and journalist-sister Siobhan, a Pogues biographer and a bandmate, Temple teases the man’s story out of him over two lively, subtitled (mostly) hours.
From an early age, he was exposed to Irish Nationalist writing, thinking and music. He idolized Brendan Behan and Dan Beard, James Mangan and James Joyce, and NOT W.B. Yeats, Bob Geldolf or Elvis Costello. Oh no.
He claims his first nervous breakdown hit him at age six and his first beers and whiskeys, offered by the adults surrounding him, at three.
Mental institutions, dry-outs, he claimed to be “sending up the stereotype” of the tipsy “Paddy” when he was the staggering, slurring sometimes-brawling embodiment of it.
“The oldsters thought, ‘If ye give’em enough when they’re young, they won’t get out of hand with it when they’re older.'”
And yet he was “The Man Who Saved Irish Music,” the one performer to give its sentimental “diddley aye” ballads and jigs “a kick in the arse.”
He had to go back to Britain to reinvent the sound, take up the cause of Irish suffering and the subjugation of Northern Ireland, and find his way back to the faith of his childhood.
“Roman Catholic mass is one the most beautiful experiences a human being can be subjected to.”
He was an avid punk fan and published a fanzine (“Bandage”) before writing songs and taking the stage with The Pogues because “in punk, it didn’t matter if you were ugly.”
MacGowan launches into long, informed discourses on Irish history and the Irish diaspora, noting “There are 45 million people in America who should still be in Ireland.”
And he freely admits that the thing he loves about the Irish poets and writers he idolizes is partly the work of the likes of Flann O’Brien, and partly their fearless/careless way with whiskey.
Temple, who’>s been connected to film and the punk scene since the ’70s, gets what he can out of MacGowan, and leans on older interviews and others to fill in the missing bits, to place the man on the pedestal earned by his body of work — not just the sentimental, biting hits such as “Fairytale of New York” or “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”
Temple’s made a fascinating film that sets the record straight — in a lot of slurred words — about MacGowan while he’s still able to do it. Because, let’s be blunt, he’s in pretty rough shape. Claims on his Wikipedia page that his wife Victoria makes about his sobriety seem laughable when we see her sitting in as he knocks a few back with Depp.
And if Temple needs an idea for his next doc, he should re-watch “Crock of Gold.” There’s a fascinating psychological profile of Johnny Depp’s fanboy efforts to become drinking buddies with famous drunks, punks and journalists alike, and then produce docs about them. A Temple “INTERRogation” might do the newly-canceled star a world of good, at this point.
MPA Rating: unrated, alcohol abuse, smoking, profanity
Cast: Shane MacGowan, Johnny Depp, Siobhan MacGowan, Gerry Adams, Victoria Mark Clarke, Ann Scanlon and Maurice Mac
Credits: Written and directed by Julien Temple. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 2:04