Very Extremely Dangerous

Very Extremely Dangerous
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Director: Paul Duane
Cert: <cert>
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Jerry McGill, Paul Duane
Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins

In recent years, Irish director Paul Duane has – whether on purpose or not – transformed himself into a cinematic champion of the neglected outsider. His 2011 documentary, Barbaric Genius, dealt with troubled writer and chess whizz John Healy. The fine upcoming Natan looks into the life of undervalued French movie pioneer Bernard Natan.

Duane's latest (uncompromisingly titled) documentary sets out in search of a middle-ranking player from the early days of rock. A sometime recording artist at Sun Records, a collaborator with Waylon Jennings, Jerry McGill disappeared into a life of crime during the 1970s. Serving at least one entire prison term under an assumed name, he comes across as the very model of the outlaw musician. (Proud of that image, he points out, in Very Extremely Dangerous, that Johnny Cash never served a day in prison.)

The film turns out to be every bit as chaotic as McGill's life. Duane travels to the southern states and gets dragged into a stew of dysfunctional lunacy. We are told again and again that Jerry – cigaretting furiously, despite a recent lung cancer diagnosis – trades in a class of irresistible roguish charm. This quantity is, however, never visible on camera. We see him assaulting a long-suffering girlfriend. We see him brandishing firearms irresponsibly. In one bleakly hilarious sequence, he goes to stay with a pleasant, ordered couple (who quite genuinely live in a town called Niceville) and, seemingly in seconds, transforms their house into a litter-strewn waste heap. On such occasions, McGill suggests a version of Ginger Baker – also the subject of a recent documentary – who never managed to ascend past the second rung of fame.

The charm may not come through on screen, but the charisma very definitely does. Featuring effective, swampy music and an often-exasperated voice-over by the director, this rough-hewn picture appears beamed in from an era when rock stars were still allowed to be reprobates.


Expect no such films in 2030 about the drummer in Travis.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist