In 2010, documentarian Julien Temple (“The Filth and The Fury,” The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle”) made a movie called “Oil City Confidential” about the British pub rock/proto-punk band Dr. Feelgood. Temple go to know their brilliant guitarist Wilko Johnson.
“I was entranced by him as a person,” Temple said. “Beyond the music, I shared a lot of history with him” in terms of their backgrounds, cultural references. (Temple was born in 1952, Johnson in ’47).
In early 2013, Johnson announced that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and would embark on a series of farewell shows. “When we heard he was ill, it was very difficult,” Temple said, eventually asking Johnson if the latter was interested in talking about what he was going through.
Temple started filming Johnson at the beginning of 2014. The result is the extraordinary “The Ecstacy of Wilko Johnson,” one of the most powerful films at this year’s SXSW and one of the best movies about being ready to die I have ever seen.
“I had no idea really where I was going to get with Wilko,” Temple says. It soon became clear that Johnson had both an extraordinary grasp of his own fate and a serious command of some of the great English poets.
“He would drop the most extraordinary quotations (from Milton and Blake) into everyday conversation,” Temple said. “He actually reminds me of Blake, who had a famously thick accent and was this absolutely transcendental figure.” (Johnson’s Essex accent is, well, rather severe.)
“I just think he is an amazing human being on a lot of levels” Temple says. ” How he could embrace (the cancer) so wholeheartedly as if it was not a burden on him at all, it was weirdly inspirational. But there is also this sense of humor pricking any bubble of pomposity.”