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

STUDIO: Magnolia | DIRECTOR: Julien Temple
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 4, 2020
SPECS: NR | 124 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

“Oh, don’t start interrogating me,” is a strange comment to hear from someone being interviewed for a documentary based on his life. However, that it comes from the surly front man of Ireland’s notorious rock band The Pogues in the new film Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is not at all surprising.

Crock of Gold is a cinematic exploration of the raucous, turbulent life of Shane MacGowan, the poet of Irish punk music. As a fan of The Pogues, I am familiar with the legendary stories of MacGowan’s inspired prose as well as his drunken and drug-fueled antics, both of which I witnessed during the sole concert I attended on St. Patrick’s Day at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. (The Guinness tasted especially good that night).

Veteran director and master of the music documentary Julien Temple (The Strypes: Best Thing Since Cavan, The Great Rock-n-Roll Swindle) is a perfect fit to tell this dynamic tale as he expertly blends interviews, archival footage, reenactments and animation into a vibrant story. The two-hour film covers MacGowan’s poor but happy childhood on the family farm in Tipperary, through their difficult move to London where he embraced the punk music scene, to forming The Pogues with the intent of giving traditional Irish folk music “a kick in the arse.” On the more intimate side, the documentary provides a glimpse into how MacGowan’s Catholic faith (he actually thought of becoming a priest), Irish politics and the racism he experienced in London shaped his unique lyrical style that can found in such songs “Streams of Whiskey,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “Sally Maclennane” (one of my personal favorites) and, of course the famed, “Fairytale of New York.” In one touching moment, MacGowan reminisces about running through the fields of Ireland where he could “hear the colors and see the sounds.” Poetic indeed.

It can be tough to watch MacGowan, his 62-year-old body worn and ravaged by decades of smoking and drinking – both of which he started at age six – followed by heavy drug abuse and an accident that has left him confined to a wheelchair. Though his speech is garbled and, at times, he can barely hold his head up, his wit and cagey personality are still very much intact. MacGowan oscillates between offering insightful personal introspection to being down right obstinate in responding to questions.

In an effort to penetrate through his hardened temperament, Temple enlists several of MacGowan’s friends to conduct the interviews including actor Johnny Depp (who also co-produced), Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams, singer Bobby Gillespie, and his long-standing partner Victoria Mary Clarke—they all have varying degrees of success. At one point, Depp resorts to playing audio of MacGowan’s past interviews to try to solicit a more robust conversation.

Crock of Gold certainly doesn’t try to soften any of MacGowan’s prickly, rough edges, but it doesn’t offer any competing narratives either. The film would have benefited from including interviews with his former bandmates to provide a more well-rounded view. MacGowan states he left The Pogues due to their grueling performance schedule—one year, they played a whopping 363 gigs, which lead to a psychological and physical breakdown—and their desire to play more mainstream music. The widely held belief is that McGowan was fired for his unreliability and substance abuse, though they did reunite for a time years later.

Crock of Gold is definitely MacGowan’s story, and though it may be a tad fawning at times, it succeeds in providing an entertaining look at a brilliantly flawed musical talent who helped transform and maintain the legacy of Irish music.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at