GUEST REVIEW BY JIM FLANAGAN!
Recent documentaries about musical artists have increasingly followed a few well-worn paths. Out and out ‘we lost them too early’ tragedy (‘Amy,’ ‘Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck’) the slow motion self-inflicted car crash (‘DIG,’), variations on the Lazarus theme (‘Anvil,’ ‘Searching For Sugarman,’ ‘Buena Vista Social Club’). To his credit, Mat Whitecross’s largely absorbing Oasis documentary ‘Oasis: Supersonic’ seemingly avoids these conventions as a badge of honour. No one dies, no one is institutionalised, and no one in sight succumbs to either mental illness or drug addiction. It is also arguably a film missing the intensely charismatic and prodigiously talented central figures usually seen as mandatory requirements of the genre. No salivating, starry eyed and obvious depictions of tortured genius found here.
Applying the now familiar audio commentary edited with stellar archival footage template of executive producer Asif Kapadia (‘Senna,’ ‘Amy’) the film covers a limited period in the band’s existence, from formation to their seemingly triumphant ‘height of their powers’ Knebworth concert in 1996. It’s a good decision that (like Ron Howard’s recent and similarly structured ‘8 Days a Week’) allows a shorter, more easily digestible period to speak more broadly about the bizarre and overwhelmingly bonkers phenomenon that was Oasis. While at times straying a little too closely to well worn shaggy dog non fictional tropes, Kapadia and Whitcross largely succeed in revealing just how unlikely and contradictory Oasis always were.
As we see early on (and hear through some quite remarkable audio almost as it unfolds) here was a band signed to a major label after their first gig, with an existing backlog of original material fitting comfortably on one hand. Immediately hailed as saviours of British rock, they were national icons within months, with an international following by the end of the year.
What is revealed are two characters (the film focuses almost exclusively on Noel and Liam) of quite immense contradictions. Imbued with an almost parodic sense of self-belief, there’s a certain unclassifiable verve, swagger and hypnotic energy about the young Gallaghers as they go about their early career. Whitecross’s approach to capturing this undefinable quality shared by both Gallagher brothers is to edit portions of Noel and Liam’s interview audio with surreal Terry Giliamesque cartoon sequences that accompany their more outlandish recollections. It’s a quite brilliant film making decision, with the sequences playing like a kind of Lancastrian Ralph Steadman comic, as the Gallagher’s stream of consciousness anecdotes ramble on, finishing each other’s sentences and almost behaving at times as one hybrid narrator.
But we also regularly glimpse a quite different Noel and Liam. The film seemingly suggests an alternative, far darker explanation for the Gallagher’s now infamous career behaviour and success. One fuelled by an appallingly abusive father, a teenager finding escape and refuge in his bedroom and guitar and a deep rooted, trauma induced contempt for all forms of authority. It’s a revelation that places all the subsequent hyper masculine Manchunian bravado and often ludicrous affectations in a quite different context.
Unfortunately these revelations are largely revealed in the film’s first half, leaving a less engaging and more fawning final few reels. The final 35 minutes is perhaps struck by the same problems that were soon to plague the band themselves. As personalities it was possible, often within the confines of a single sentence to be hypnotised by their brutal honesty, energy and indifference to the expectations of the industry, then appalled by their self aggrandising posturing and cruelty. The public clearly tired of the latter, as the quality of their (always derivative) song writing dipped alarmingly.
Fittingly, the film succeeds in convincing us the Gallaghers were ultimately more aware of their own limitations than anyone. In one of the film’s most revealing moments, Noel confides that he doesn’t really believe anyone involved in Oasis were ‘…the best in the world at anything. When it all came together, we made people feel something that was undefinable. It caught fire and all these people got on board.’
Review (c) Jim Flanagan
Listen to Jim and CJ discuss the film on the MOVIELAND Podcast – click the big CJ avatar on the left.