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Opens in Australia December 17.
Among music documentarians, Julien Temple strides as a charming colossus, primarily because of The Great Rock And Roll Swindle, his incredible 1980 portrait of The Sex Pistols. He’s also one of the great – and prolific – music video directors, particularly of the British scene since 1977, when he got his start making videos for the Pistols. He’s got an eye, an ear, and a deep appreciation for his tribe, particularly the punks, the rebels and the misfits. Shane MacGowan, creative driving force and lead singer of The Pogues, is certainly all three of those and then some. In his life-long commitment to unhealthy living, he’s perhaps the most misfitting, rebellious punk of them all.
Temple’s two-hour documentary on MacGowan, Crock of Gold, is as energetic and meticulous as all of his work, astonishingly full of expertly curated archival material and found footage, narrated, stirringly and slurringly, by MacGowan, who may be slow and sloppy, but is still somewhat witty and somewhat wise. He’s in a wheelchair now, his feet and brain ravaged by drink, and his head lilts to the side, as though his neck was, too. To get him to tell us his story, Temple has him sit with his wife Siobhan (he got married last year), Gerry Adams (yes, that Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin until 2018) and Johnny Depp (yes, that Johnny Depp, who is one of the producers of the movie and seems to venerate men like MacGowan and the late Hunter S. Thompson, guys with real drinking problems). MacGowan talks to them, and Temple illustrates his oral history as he has in previous films with imagery from a vast array of sources and specifically created animation. It’s propulsive and vibrant. There’s a lot of footage of MacGowan from the late 70s during the birth of London punk, thrashing in the crowd at other band’s gigs, and it turns out that he was, weirdly, a kind of punk-scene celebrity before he even announced himself as a musician.
Beyond MacGowan’s own story (and that of The Pogues), Temple paints a bigger picture, of Ireland’s rich and rebellious history, of punk (of course), and (of course) of drink. You can’t tell MacGowan’s story without talking of booze, and the film is soaked in it, just like MacGowan. He’s simultaneously a sad figure and a weirdly heroic one, defiantly drinking even as he finds it hard to get the glass to his lips. Around him, his friends and family have long ago accepted that he’s a lifer, and they enable him. He’ll die of drink one day, but he hasn’t yet, and that keeps the film’s energy upbeat: MacGowan is a living musician, not a soaking corpse, and here is his worthy celebration.