B+ Music documentary
Directed by Julien Temple
If you’re not familiar with The Pogues, you have a treat to discover. For some 27 years (not including five inactive ones), this Irish band melded punk rock, traditional music, and deeply-felt left-wing politics. But film director Julien Temple doesn’t seem to really care about the Pogues. His film, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, is really about the group’s songwriter and lead singer. It’s a fascinating story, but I wanted more about the rest of the band.
MacGowan, when we see him in the recent interviews clearly done for the film, looks like a mess. He’s confined to a wheelchair, with his head leaning badly to the right. He often looks frightened. In a tribute concert near the end of the film, it’s other Irish performers, including Bono, who do all the singing.
How did he get into that condition? According to MacGowan himself, he’s been drinking since he was a child, and never stopped. He says in the movie that the band played better sober, but they usually played drunk because it was more fun. He also became a heroin addict. There’s a mention of a car accident, but we’re never told who was at fault. He also appears to have the worst teeth in the European Union.
And yet, he’s almost treated like a shrine in Ireland. More than one person in the documentary tells us that he saved Irish music.
According to his own words, MacGowan created the Pogues because he was too scared to join the IRA. If you listen to his music – I love the album Rum Sodomy & the Lash – you’ll discover that he sings about exploited workers, cruel bosses, and supposedly heroic outlaws. Dirty Old Town and The Old Main Drag are about the mean streets of London (he and his parents lived in England for awhile).
MacGowan knows his country’s history. He talks about the potato blight of the 1840s (he doesn’t call it a famine, because there was plenty of food, but the Irish weren’t allowed to eat it). The massive starvation created deep hatred for the English and caused mass emigration.
Temple uses clips of old movies to illustrate Irish history. To illustrate MacGowan’s own history, where photos and home movies aren’t available, he uses animation.
Much as I liked Crock of Gold, I felt that a lot was missing. There are no interviews with other members of the Pogues. We get a few comments about MacGowan leaving, but no other musician talks about that. There’s plenty of music to enjoy in the film, but you never hear a song from start to finish.
Crock of Gold is playing via virtual cinema through the Cerrito, Elmwood, Lark, Rafael, and the Roxie. Go to the website of any of these theaters to stream the movie. Half your ticket price will help the theater get through the pandemic.