Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane McGowan

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane McGowan joins the Official Selection
"This is how the film plays out: loose and jumbled but still somehow telling a story. It's a style that suits its subject perfectly." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

If there was one thing that puzzled and frustrated music journalists in the Eighties more than any other, it was how it could be that, surrounded as he was by so many stylishly dressed, perfectly posed and undoubtedly good looking male music stars, The Pogues' Shane McGowan got so much female attention. He may have been routinely described as the ugly guy, but even now, in his sixties, one has to acknowledge that he's in pretty good shape for a man who has been drinking several pints a day since he was six.

There's a story, you see, about a dragon and a crock of gold, and the dragon makes a tempting alternative offer, but it's the gold - sometimes associated with creative power or insight - that's the only satisfying prize for a certain sort of man. Here, McGowan says that he's been looking for that crock of gold all his life. Much of the interview material used in Julien Temple's documentary is shot in a pub where McGowan is enjoying a few drinks with his old pal Johnny Depp. When the actor makes a reference to his work, McGowan scoffs, asking if he seriously thinks that he stayed awake all through Pirates. "You think I did?" Depp retorts.

This is how the film plays out: loose and jumbled but still somehow telling a story. It's a style that suits its subject perfectly. He takes us back to his early childhood, growing up in a remote Irish cottage with a family who believed that children should be allowed to do whatever they wanted as long as they went to mass. Since McGowan loved mass - the spectacle, the music, the magic of it all - his life was an easy one, a happy haze of drink and cigarettes and meaningful conversations with farm animals. Then he moved to an England where the pubs had signs saying 'no dogs, no blacks, no Irish' and people reminded him of that prejudice at every turn, and somewhere along the line he saw the Sex Pistols and hit upon an idea that would revolutionise the way the world understood Irish music.

Meandering through the career that followed, the film doesn't actually feature all that many Pogues songs, and Fairytale Of New York is as overused as it is most Christmases, but the focus is more on the man than the music. McGowan is a fine spinner of tales and has had an abundance of adventures. You won't need to be a fan to find them entertaining. There's a recognition, though, that charming though he may be, his alcoholism has put real pressure on the people close to him and has seriously messed up his life at times. He argues that he doesn't care and that it's nobody else's business if he chooses to enjoy himself at the expense of his health, but there's a melancholy streak to the film that reflects strained relationships and an awareness of loss.

Songs are called 'airs', McGowan says, because one can pluck them out of the air; that's what he does if he loses one. There's an innocence about him, a complete focus on the moment that suggests he doesn't really appreciate the rarity of his talent. He knows his history and speaks extensively on politics, explaining how the one has shaped the other, yet his own story, even as it tumbles out, seems to be something of a mystery to him. It's illustrated with various pieces of archive footage, some of which he's in, some of which may or may not be him. This sense of ambiguity pervades the film, giving it a dreamlike quality. As in any good story, the details might shift but it's the soul of the thing that matters.

The film is in UK cinemas on December 4 and on DVD and VoD from December 7.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2020
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Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane McGowan packshot
Documentary about The Pogues frontman.
Amazon link

Director: Julien Temple

Writer: Julien Temple

Starring: Shane McGowan, Johnny Depp

Year: 2020

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

SSFF 2020
DOC NYC 2020

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