The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson
While shrouded in a gloomy preface, this recent documentary from Julien Temple reveals itself to be a true, albeit melancholy treat. Focusing on the enigmatic Wilko Johnson, it follows the legendary musician as he faces up to the reality of his 2013 diagnosis of terminal cancer. Grim as the outlook may be, Johnson proves himself to be a fascinating character, with an entirely unexpected attitude towards his situation. His newfound ecstasy at being alive and the clever way in which the film is made creates a truly inspiring and entertaining documentary.
One of the first, and most beautiful, things the viewer learns about Johnson is that he loves literature. Confessing to “always reading something”, the entire film is peppered with quotes by everyone from Chaucer to Wordsworth, often recited by Johnson himself. He narrates with constant diversions to literature or classic film that echo points in his life, a tactic which manages to keep the film feeling fresh throughout. There are often artistic cutaways too, such as when he is in a projection room, or has things projected onto him. All of these factors mean that Temple’s film feels extremely current, and is not, as would be the danger, just the reminiscent ramblings of an old man.
Johnson, as it turns out, is also able to read Old Icelandic and is an amateur astronomer, as well as being an actor (Game of Thrones) and a talented musician. His humility is incredibly endearing, and it leaves one with a real respect and fondness for him. He faces his diagnosis with total acceptance and yet remarks on his immediate elation at the vividness of life upon receiving it. It leads to some thought-provoking revelations, such as his adjustment to try live in the “now” without committing anything to memory, as without a future he has no need to. It is a terrifying concept to many, but he is able to laugh about it, no longer willing to mourn over what he cannot change.
It is a slick and interesting documentary, masterfully created around an altogether fascinating and good person. Audiences are treated to numerous (flamboyant) musical performances – both classic and recent – and as Johnson plays out the end on his trusty guitar, they are left having had a truly impressive cinematic experience.
The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson is released in selected cinemas on 17th July 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson here: