It’s hard to watch Shane MacGowan in this wheezing, hissing state

Review: Crock of Gold – A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is an endurance test for all

The official trailer for Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, which looks at the life and career of The Pogues frontman. Video: Altitude Films

The Pogues frontman reputedly refused to give an interview for Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.

Film Title: Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan

Director: Julien Temple

Starring: Shane MacGowan, Johnny Depp, Gerry Adams

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 124 min

Thu, Dec 3, 2020, 06:00

   

Film-maker Julien Temple knows the slings and arrows of the movieverse all too well. Having started his career with the era-defining 1980 Sex Pistols documentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, he endured the unfairly maligned Absolute Beginners before establishing a considerable reputation as a documentarian.

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan feels like an endurance event for the director, a film for which The Pogues frontman reputedly refused to give an interview.

It falls to archive footage, dramatisation, gaudy animations and interviews-by-proxy to form the narrative. In contemporary footage we meet famous chums and enablers including Johnny Depp, who also acted as a producer.

Depp, Gerry Adams and others sit down with MacGowan for the rounds of the title. The man himself looks in a sorry state, wheezing and hissing and unable to walk unaided. (Irish viewers who complained that his 2019 appearance on The Late Late Show, replete with a fake pub set, was exploitative are unlikely to be impressed.)

In an opening section MacGowan talks through his Tipperary childhood – getting drunk before catechism, pissing out the door, tales of the Black and Tans – without mentioning that he grew up in England. When Bobby Gillespie asks MacGowan when he first moved to London, he is promptly told to drop it.

Punk years

MacGowan’s punk years are a fog of drugs and alcohol and seedy squats. A young spiky-haired MacGowan rails against punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue for being as establishment as the Financial Times. As immortalised in The Old Main Drag, he works Soho as a teenage hustler: “Just hand jobs,” he tells Depp.

He’s an unlikely celebrity but a run of great records, including 1985’s Elvis Costello-produced Rum, Sodomy and the Lash and 1988’s If I Should Fall from Grace with God, and a series of terrific songs that fused punk and traditional Irish riffs, made him a favourite on English chat shows.

The later years of break-ups and decline – MacGowan hasn’t released an album since 1997 – are even blurrier than those that preceded.

While those around MacGowan are keen to worship him as an uncompromising Hunter S Thompson figure, Temple allows for the sadness of MacGowan’s situation. Too often, he’s hard to watch.

Just as MacGowan leaves one to ponder a talent squandered, Crock of Gold makes one wonder about the documentary that might have been if only the subject had been more co-operative.

“I did what I did for Ireland,” says MacGowan. By the end credits we are still not sure what that means.