Shane MacGowan and life after death

Shane MacGowan has really gone to the dogs, but wasn’t that always part of the plan? The opening moments in Julien Temple’s slashing, smashing musical documentary Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan show the Irish-English singer-songwriter in a wheelchair. In combination with his gray hair, pallid complexion and weak, wavering voice, MacGowan’s new wheels give him the dissipated, one-foot-in-the-grave appearance his fans expected him to eventually have, sooner or later.

Nobody lives forever. But the boyo has led quite a life. Filmmaker Temple, who paid similar cinematic tributes to the Sex Pistols, Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, splashes the artist’s mad, messy, pin-wheeling career and opinions onto the screen with the same glee Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan typically showed while draining a bottle of … you name it.

Born of Irish immigrant parents in Tunbridge Wells, England, he spent the first six years of his life with his grandparents—who gave him a glass of stout at bedtime and told him stories of Cú Chulainn and the IRA—in County Tipperary. But instead of being shot while tied to a chair à la revolutionary James Connolly, our lad chose to try to drown himself in alcohol whilst carousing in London music clubs.

He never abandoned his love for the folk tunes he grew up with, though. Hence the Pogues, a band that brilliantly combined traditional Irish drinking songs with punk rock and made MacGowan the chairman of the Inventive Public Intoxication Society—not to mention the Bad Teeth Club. In that respect he’s a worthy successor to the legacy left by Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, Dylan Thomas, Richard Harris, Sid Vicious, Keith Richards and renowned poet Brendan Behan, one of MacGowan’s guiding lights.

Writer-director Temple decorates the hyper-energized doc with a generous helping of library shots (peat bogs, smiling old men, the “dirty protest” in the H-Blocks prison), animations (courtesy Ralph Steadman and MacGowan himself), rare performance footage from punk’s heyday and the wry testimony of the artist, his sister Siobhan and his father Maurice—Da is still a bit skeptical of the kid’s taste in pop music. Also hanging out is Johnny Depp, a known associate of arty drunks, and perhaps not surprisingly, former Northern Irish Republican politician Gerry Adams, seated in MacGowan’s parlor sharing a bit of the craic about the bad old days.

It is established that MacGowan channeled his Irish liberation impulses into his music. We hear the MacGowan/Jem Finer composition “Fairytale of New York” (the Pogues’ greatest hit) on the soundtrack, alongside such socially conscious, unabashedly sentimental numbers as MacGowan’s self-penned “Sally Maclenanne” and “The Old Main Drag,” and Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” If he had his way, MacGowan would be remembered as a literary figure who also wrote songs, in the manner of his idol Behan and poet James Clarence Mangan. Behan, Mangan and MacGowan all have in common a substance-abuse issue. It goes with the turf, as they say. Crock of Gold gets to the bottom of such things with maximum flair.

Wander Darkly

Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and her boyfriend Matteo (Diego Luna) are expecting a baby together and planning to marry when a catastrophic accident occurs and sends them both into a sort of dream state in which they—and more importantly, we the audience—are never quite sure if they’re dead or alive.

Writer-director Tara Miele’s hazy, subjective drama Wander Darkly puts itself into troubled dramatic waters as the story unfolds. There are leaps of time and place, and worse. Restless spirits, lost in unhappy family memories, tend to make for unreliable narrators. When you’re dead you don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. But our feelings are already in disarray from Miele’s scenario, which resembles Terrence Malick Lite. Best wishes to actors Miller and Luna—they try, but there’s not terribly much to say about this one.

“Crock of Gold” is now playing in theaters and available on demand.”
Wander Darkly” opens Dec. 11 in theaters and on demand.

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