The Ecstasy Of Wilko Johnson (15)

Directed by Julian Temple
Picturehouse, Liverpool
7th August - 13th August 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Julian Temple, a film director I greatly admire, had previously shone a spotlight on rock guitarist Wilko Johnson, within the form of a filmic celebration of Dr. Feelgood, titled Oil City Confidential, in 2009. But this time the full focus was directed upon him after Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012 and given eight months to live

It was meant as a commemoration of his life, but here in 2015 Johnson was still alive. Instead of the film being a tribute to Johnson, which it was, the closing credits revealed that it was a dedication to Temple's mum, who died earlier this year.

The images throughout - not the music-related ones I must emphasise - were enthralling to behold. They ranged from scenes from films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, Powell and Pressburger and Jean Cocteau, the 1964 BBC TV transmission of Hamlet, and inevitably Ingmar Bergman's the Seventh Seal, where Death plays chess with the man set to die.

Indeed Temple reconstructs that scene, with Johnson talking about his life, adjacent to a sea wall in Canvey Island, to a figure seated across the chess table, which was Johnson himself dressed in a black cloak and hood. Eerie.....

The images of nature, particularly the beautiful and bewitching presence of trees and other forms of nature, were very moving.

After being told he only had a short time to live, Johnson discovered an elation in life he had never experienced before.

The most touching moment of the film was when Johnson visited Japan, which he adores for its strangeness and karma, on what was presumed to be a farewell tour. The fans adored him, with many in tears, singing and shouting bye bye Wilko, with Johnson playing the Chuck Berry standard Bye Bye Johnny.

A surprising, or even shocking moment, occurred when he recalled his reaction, as a schoolboy , when told of the death of his dad.

Wilko certainly has a lot of interests, including astronomy - he has an observatory on top of his house - "Saturn is my favourite planet by far" - and is an avid reader. "I even read the back of the cornflakes box while eating my breakfast!"

Having seen Dr. Feelgood at the Liverpool Stadium during the 1970s, I could never have imagined that a film like this, created forty years later, would have been made of the skinny guy in black strutting his stuff on a black Telecaster on stage.

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Comment left by sandra gibson on 15th August, 2015 at 16:33
Saw a programme on BBC 4 about Dr Feelgood - compelling. Mesmerising. Especially Wilko. Saw him recently at the Civic Hall Nantwich as part of the Jazz and Blues Festival. This was before his diagnosis. He still has that unique movement. Enticing review.