The much-anticipated new film by Julien Temple, Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is set to open in Irish cinemas from December 4th. The theatrical release will kick off with a special cinema event on the night of December 4th when audiences will be treated to exclusive never-seen-before footage from MacGowan’s 60th birthday concert including performances from MacGowan and friends including Bono, Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard, Lisa O’Neill and Sharon Shannon.
We caught up with the director Julien Temple to talk about the new movie…
Can you tell me how and why you decided to tell Shane McGowan’s story?
Julian Temple: Jerry O’Boyle, Shane’s manager, asked if I wanted to do the film. They wanted me to film Shane’s 60th birthday concert which I couldn’t do because I was working on another film. I wanted to do something. Shane is an important figure in many ways, particularly in the context that I’ve been working in which is using music to look at the person and social history. I hate talking head documentaries. I hate talking head wrinkly old rock stars sitting in armchairs. You know, it just is anathema to me. Shane is just the same, and he is a fantastic figure, but he comes with a warning on the label. He’s not the easiest guy to work with. I was conflicted, but then Johnny Depp got involved. I felt that there would be someone else to help the boat from capsizing if it was going to happen. It was a difficult film to make at times, but it was certainly worth it. The guy is deservedly a legend.
We know he can be prickly, and you don’t shy away from that in the film. How do you navigate that?
Julian Temple: It was about persuading myself not to give up on it and walk away from it and to take the abuse in a good-natured way. He doesn’t always mean it. The wonderful thing about the man is he’s an incredibly multifaceted character. I want to show all these different versions of Shane, it’s not to canonize him or demonize him, not to whitewash him. I think his fans would hate that. I wanted to show many sides of him and then let people make their own minds up. I don’t want it to be a judgmental thing. That would be the worst approach to someone like Shane, so I hope there is that sense that people can.
Irish history is so integral to Shane, his life and his work. Did you realize going into this how much of his life was influenced by Irish history?
Julian Temple: I was aware that he was connected to the Irish literary tradition. He talks a lot about that in his songs, songs like Streams of Whiskey. He references Brendan Behan. There’s a deep interweaving of his creativity with the tradition in that literary sense that he comes from equally musically. I knew about the connection, but the thing that surprised me was learning that Shane was on a mission to bring Irish culture into a new light, to expose it to a whole new generation and also give a voice to the London Irish. That was a big Irish population that hadn’t had a focal outlet for their feelings or their experience. I was astonished by how deep his knowledge of Irish history and the struggle for independence over the centuries was. It has informed pretty much everything he’s done. In England, it’s an interesting thing to use a film about Shane to help English kids and young people who really know nothing about it, to understand a little more from the Irish point of view. Shane, being a Londoner as well as an Irishman, is a perfect way to explain that.
The choice to film Shane in conversation rather than use talking heads suited both your style and Shane’s preference, but the idea to use Gerry Adams as one of those in conversation, how did that come about?
Julian Temple: Shane refused to do any interviews in the traditional sense. I think the fact that he is difficult has made this a more interesting film in a way. If it had been built around him in an armchair just talking to a camera, it wouldn’t have the same ability to show different versions of who he is. He’s one person with Johnny Depp; he is a drinking buddy. He’s another person with Gerry Adams, he seems to look up to Gerry and then he is a very different person with Bobby Gillespie who gets the raw end of the stick in a way. Gerry was someone they suggested that Shane would like to talk to so went with that. You see interesting things come out of that conversation, you know.
The influence of the Sex Pistols is a critical part of Shane’s early years and then they are a considerable part of the first part of your career. Do you think there’s a synchronicity in the fact that you both had key moments tied to them?
Julian Temple: As it happened, we had that connection from the Sex Pistols days. We did the first interview that anyone did with Shane in 1976. It is the black and white video in the film, Shane had peroxide blonde hair. The audience was such a big part of that moment. Shane was down the front of the stage, and you see him just absorbing this energy and the ideas and the wisdom. You see him glowing in it in a way; you couldn’t keep your camera off him in thatway.
Shane almost is a figure of myth, and your use of animation really adds to that. Talk to me about the decision to animate parts of the film?
Julian Temple: I first did it with the Sex Pistols, and I got into dangerous waters because they didn’t like it. I’ve always found the best cartoons are very subversive. I love the great anti-Disney animators. As you say, someone as interesting as Shane creates their own mythology around them. Their version of themselves becomes as important as who they are. The story of his childhood in Ireland is like a strangely warped fairy tale in a way. He’s got an incredibly romantic connection to Ireland that he probably wouldn’t have had if he lived in Tipperary all the time. I think the fact that you’re in London and away from that culture, it gives you a fascination and an imaginative response to it. I did want to find ways of capturing that with animation and using different styles to show the other moments in Shane’s life by using animation in various types that were relative to the time. The opening is kind of Disney, the young child being chosen to lead Ireland out of the woods. You’ve got this snowy landscape on the Emerald Isle consciously playing with some of the myths of Irishness or whatever you call it. When he’s on the farm having his first glass of whiskey, it’s more in the style of animal farm, the fifties, George Orwell animation. Then in the sixties, it’s the Beano, which was a big thing growing up in London. We’ve moved into the world of weird hippie freak animation crumb, then the San Francisco psychedelic for Hendrix. It all ended in tears with the Japanese anime in Tokyo, which seemed appropriate to use that very innocent style of Japanese animation for the last moments of the Pogues.
Tell me about the process of sorting through the archive and deciding what footage to use?
Julian Temple: The important stuff is the beginning of it. I like to have no real clue where I’m headed when I start on a thing like this. I get all the archive in, and I start reading as much as I can. I find it a wonderfully uplifting process learning about new stuff. And that to me is probably the most exciting part of it. One of the key things I’ve found in it was to solve telling this story where Shane wasn’t part of it, as much as you might have hoped. We got all the film archives that we could; then you go out and scout for really obscure micro cassette tapes of him. You find one from Bilbao in 1984, four in the morning, and he says something that you can hardly hear, but it is brilliant nonetheless. You become a detective piecing together who this guy is. It’s a fascinating detective trail that you go on. We spent eight hours shooting Johnny and Shane and ended up using three minutes, but it’s great. You get lots of stuff about Kris Kristofferson or Jerry Lee Lewis which isn’t right for this film, you know? But what I realised was staring me in the face, how am I going to organize this film? I looked at Shane’s face listening to Johnny, which is the stuff you usually throw away, but it was staring me in the face. His face is so expressive, so soulful, the play of emotions was dramatic. And I thought I’ll make that be the spine of the film and I’ll have him listening to his own story. So, I intercut that with these strange bits of tape recordings on cassettes. It was turning what’s normally chucked away into something meaningful, which is exciting.
Has Shane watched the film?
Julian Temple: He saw it with Gerry Adams in Dublin. He was apparently in tears at the end, I don’t know what it means really, but I hope he liked it. I’ve tried to make it honest. I hope he connects with some of that. I hope it tells it his story with respect; he deserves that.
Interview by Cara O’Doherty
Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with ShaneMacGowan is at Irish cinemas from Dec 4th