The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson
Back in the 1970s, Wilko Johnson enjoyed fame as the lead guitarist in a British pub-rock band called Dr. Feelgood. Now he is a widower in his sixties, still living in the region where he was brought up, an isolated part of the Thames estuary that has managed to preserve its working-class character.
Here he takes his daily walks. An eloquent man with stories to tell, he enjoys talking to the camera. The audience is all set for some interesting rock music reminiscences when, out of the blue, the musician is diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer. Only ten months to live. Surely this will make the film thoughtful and melancholic?
Thoughtful, yes; melancholic, no! Wilko faces his approaching end with great gaiety of spirit. This is the “ecstasy” of the film’s title. “The idea that death is really imminent makes you realise what a wonderful thing it is to be alive,” he says. And then, surprisingly, there is a reprieve.
Over a thirty-year career the British filmmaker Julien Temple has made a huge number of rock documentaries, but none more poetic than this. The beauty of Wilko’s testimony is punctuated by exceptionally well-edited film clips that seem to comment obliquely on the guitarist’s predicament. So the great European filmmakers – Cocteau, Tarkovsky, Parajanov, Bergman, Buñuel – bear benevolent witness to his fate.
Julien Temple is an documentary feature film director whose credits include The Filth and the Fury, The Future Is Unwritten – Joe Strummer, Oil City Confidential, Requiem to Detroit and London, and The Modern Babylon. Always with wit and insight, his instantly recognisable creative style is uniquely informative, compelling and entertaining.