DIR: Paul Duane PRO: Paul Duane, Robert Gordon ED: Colm O’Brien, Fiona Starogardzki
A prominent sub-genre of the wider musical-documentary field consists of a quest or travelogue in which the filmmakers rediscover and redeem some gifted musical talent omitted from the success-obsessed mainstream of musical history. Into this uplifting niche fall such films as Searching for Sugarman and The Buena Vista Social Club. It would be odd, however, if the filmmakers who set out on these journeys always came up with subjects who fitted neatly into this happy frame. By focusing on Jerry McGill, director Paul Duane has found a subject who cannot help but derail this intended upward arc. McGill was a contemporary and acquaintance of Elvis who enjoyed a hit record in 1959, but subjugated whatever musical talent he once possessed to drugs, thrill-seeking robberies and violence—while these may be the kinds of activities to be celebrated in song, they play havoc with the cultivation of a successful musical career. Despite being diagnosed with life-threatening lung cancer, having the attention of a documentary crew and the chance to record his music once again, the 70-year-old McGill reverts to the anarchic outlaw behaviour that ensured his career never took off in the first place, and pisses all over his chances of making his longed-for comeback.
Narrating the film, Duane recognises that the expected redemptive narrative will not be possible in this case, and the film shifts subtly so that it almost becomes a revelation of the romantic impulses and patterns that must operate in redemptive musical documentaries to repress, obscure and elide awkward realities like the subject’s fecklessness, ego and stupidity in order to come up with the pre-scripted happy ending. The wit, charisma and talent we charitably attribute to McGill at the outset are gradually chiselled away as he abuses trust, alienates his friends, threatens violence on his long-suffering girlfriend and indulges in absurd prima-donna preening. He betrays the same mix of sentiment and selfishness as some deluded crank auditioning for the X-Factor. Duane does a very good job of undercutting the overworked redemptive narrative, it is just a shame that that the very last scene grasps for a sense of uplift, by which time I was hoping that Jerry would return to the obscurity he had originally merited. In an earlier moment, the hopeless old peacock is seen purchasing some bling in preparation for a dismal comeback gag. He settles on a piece of jewellery that reads “2pac.” Ol’ dirty bastard would have been more fitting.
Very Extremely Dangerous is released on 16th October 2013