▶︎ Crock of Gold A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is in UK cinemas from 4 December 2020, on DVD and to rent on digital platforms from 7 December 2020.
Traditionally, there are two things associated with the word ‘crock’, and while Julien Temple’s raucously enjoyable San Sebastián-awarded biodoc about Shane MacGowan is (like MacGowan’s 1997 Popes album) titled Crock of Gold, one of the film’s virtues is that it acknowledges the other, less precious substance of which crocks can be full. Self-mythologisation, tale-spinning and barstool bullshitting are integral to the ex-Pogues frontman’s persona, yet his roustabout raconteurism is shot through with piercing self-awareness. Whatever you’ve ever thought about MacGowan – Celtic minstrel-genius or punchline about bad teeth – Crock of Gold proves MacGowan got there first.
The earliest and most consequential act of myth-making was, of course, his defiant embrace of Irishness, despite having moved back to his native England at the age of six. It is perhaps less lived experience and more an extraordinary, hungry nostalgia for the personalities and incidents of his early childhood in Tipperary – portrayed in gorgeous, vintage-postcard footage, unfortunately shoddy animations and glowingly romantic black and white – that provides the motivating contradiction of MacGowan’s life and music. His is an Irishness doubled-down on and magnified by absence – when his English schoolmates teased his accent, his response was: “You want Paddy? I’ll give you fucking Paddy.” So the film becomes a fascinating investigation into the diaspora mindset, as embodied by one man.
That man’s body is now a distressingly ravaged one – the new footage of MacGowan, slumped and slurring and unable to walk, is a shock even for one so famously unbeholden to norms of beauty. Soon, though, it becomes clear that however slow his speech, his mind is quick, his wits sharp. If you’re looking for a morality lesson about the Demon Drink, or the frankly discussed drug abuse MacGowan has semi-miraculously lived through, you will only find it terms of the physical cautionary tale he represents. His words – profane, poetic, political and personal – could almost amount to an apologia for alcoholism, if MacGowan felt that alcoholism needed such a thing.
Specifically, MacGowan became the punk-trad bard of the Irish in London during the 1980s, an era Temple documents with vibrancy and urgency – the sheer wealth of archive material he must have mined for this documentary is staggering, and the classic film excerpts (Odd Man Out is used extensively) perfectly chosen. And it’s set, naturally, to an irresistible soundtrack made up of the disparate music traditions that influenced MacGowan’s bands, The Nipple Erectors (later The Nips), the Pogues and The Popes. Interspersed, we get slivers of barroom chats (MacGowan reportedly refused more formal interviews for which, God bless him) with longtime friends such as Bobby Gillespie, Johnny Depp (one of the producers of this film) and ex-Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. While some may find Adams’ latter-day avuncular reincarnation dubious at best, his inclusion here is justified if only for the casually jaw-dropping aside he makes about all the good things that British culture has to offer.
Temple has made rock-docs about the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, among others, but his reverently irreverent approach has never felt more appropriate than here. For music fans, the overview of the late 20th-century London music scene, plus sarky anecdotes about Elvis Costello and other erstwhile collaborators, not to mention MacGowan’s scathing assessment of his post-Fairytale of New York fall from growling grace, are well worth the price of entry. But for the Irish among us, especially the diaspora, Crock of Gold is an even bigger treat, part time-capsule (Dave Fanning! Gay Byrne!), part fondly ferocious excavation of our fraught relationship with the Brits and part, of course, messy boozing session that turns up gold and, let’s say, blarney in roughly equal measures.
In Another Round, Mads Mikkelsen and pals uncork their spirits
Thomas Vinterberg’s not-so-blithe fable of four drinking buddies takes a deep look at the cup of life.
By Jessica Kiang
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