Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan – Review. By Trent Neely.
This documentary details the life and career of Shane MacGowan, infamous Irish poet and lead singer of The Pogues. Spanning MacGowan’s early days growing up on a farm in Tipperary Ireland to the present day, the film serves both as an expose on what led to MacGowan becoming the influential figure he became, and a retrospective on what his lasting legacy for the genre of punk music and the Irish people has been.
The film particularly shines in its first half, detailing Shane’s upbringing in Ireland to his emergence on the punk scene with The Pogues in England. With a combination of interviews, archival footage, dramatizations, and clever short animations, director Julien Temple, editor Caroline Richards, and the rest of the crew do a great job of making sure that the film remains engaging despite the heavy amount of exposition present. Especially considering that MacGowan himself is shown to be resistant to prompts from interviewers when asked direct questions.
When he does answer, it is short, blunt and unashamed in its reveal of a man who has fully pushed life to the edge. Yet despite their simple delivery, most of MacGowan’s statements offer layered insight into music, history, society and his own behavior. As we hear him talk about exploring the Irish countryside in his youth, enjoying his first drinks with family and hearing Irish poetry around town, MacGowan’s love for the Irish culture and its legacy is made perfectly clear.
MacGowan’s art is not entirely defined by romance and nostalgia however. Archival footage and interviewees illustrate how strong the conflict between the English and the Irish was during the 20th century. MacGowan himself talks about how he was isolated and bullied when his family came to England due to the fact that they were Irish. MacGowan is portrayed in the film as feeling almost duty bound to proudly proclaim his heritage, revitalize Irish music, and also use it to help bring awareness to the strife and complexity of the Irish people worldwide.
These historical facets illustrate quite effectively that an artist and art itself is not only formed by talent, but the circumstances and times in which the artist and art are crafted. When considering this cultural context, the audience comes to understand why his songs evocative of Irish music of the past were both so beloved by fans and so meaningful to MacGowan himself, he wasn’t just making music for himself, he was making it for Ireland.
The second half of the film details MacGowan’s life as he battles addiction and wrestles with the increased commercial nature of his music, feeling pressure to write songs that top the charts and play well in various markets. While the first half’s foundation helps the audience understand why Macgowan became so frustrated and depressed by his lack of artistic creativity and integrity, MacGowan’s purpose was to revitalize a genre and celebrate a culture not to just make money after all.
Audiences familiar with the stories surrounding artists damaged by addictive tendencies and embittered by the profit-centric mindset of the music industry may find that the second half of the film drags slightly and be somewhat derivative in format. Though it does serve to paint a full picture of who MacGowan is, celebrating him for all his idiosyncrasies and complexities.
If you are looking for a film that shows how time, history, culture, and tradition can influence art and a story of how art can help someone find their voice and speak about what matters to them, watch this film if given a chance.
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