With the endlessly entertaining shots continuing to ring out between former-Oasis brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, the band’s music has almost taken a second seat to their hilarious public bickering. Director Mat Whitecross’ Oasis: Supersonic aims to right that imbalance by focusing on the early glory days of the UK band, roughly from their formation in 1991 to their 2-night stand at Knebworth in 1996 before a quarter of a million fans.
Produced by Amy director Asif Kapadia, Whitecross maintains that film’s style by using entirely pre-shot footage in lieu of the standard rock-doc talking heads. New audio interviews with the band, family and close friends are overlaid over home videos and early concert footage to great effect, even though we must be missing some great facial expressions from the Gallaghers as they recount the stratospheric rise of the band.
Part of the lore of Oasis is that while many bands pretended not to care about their success, Oasis really didn’t care, a notion that shines through in the band’s early years in often-hilarious ways. From mouthing off at UK award ceremonies to sabotaging their first LA show through copious use of crystal meth (all thankfully captured here on film), the band seemed almost bothered by success, and all it’s accompanying demands that kept them away from their local pub and football matches.
The often-volatile relationship between Liam and Noel is the crux of the film, an endless power struggle between the two brothers that eventually ground the band to a halt in 2009. Early on, the film seems to hit on one of the main differences between the two brothers – Noel is content to let the songs speak for themselves, while Liam seems completely aware that the band’s look and attitude is just as important as their songwriting. It’s a key moment that shows just why Oasis worked so well, with that volatile mixture of ear-candy songs combined with an almost ludicrous amount of chutzpah. It also shows why that dichotomy would keep pushing the brothers further apart as Oasis became increasingly popular.
Despite the very public feuds between the two brothers, they speak about each other in loving terms throughout the film, while acknowledging how their behaviour negatively affected the other. The film dives deep into their family history, featuring interviews with their mother who eventually fled with the family from a husband that was physically abusive to her and Noel. “My own father beat the talent into me,” Noel says at one point, and it’s hard to know how to take that statement. When their father decides to show up at an Oasis show after being out of their lives for years, Noel has to physically restrain Liam from confronting him in public, knowing the damage it will do to his brother. It’s one quick moment in the film that shows their true bond, in spite of all of their shenanigans over the years.
The film is at its most exhilarating when it simply chronicles the astounding rise of the band, who basically went from recording their debut LP to playing to 250,000 people at Knebworth in just three years. It’s the sort of meteoric rise that will likely never happen again, at least not for a rock n’ roll band. Yet the insular nature of the film never allows for much context for the band’s success. We see the great early rehearsals where now classic songs like “Supersonic” and “Champagne Supernova” are being worked out for the first time, but the word “Britpop” is never once uttered in the film (or the name “Blur” for that matter, who were neck and neck with Oasis in terms of popularity in the UK at the time). Ending the film in 1996 is also a strange choice that may have something to do with the Gallaghers’ role as co-producers here – let’s just focus on how great we were, shall we?
Framing the film around the Knebworth concerts also allows the film to end on a triumphant high note, with the band taking the stage in their home country to record-breaking audiences, just a year after their sophomore release, the massive (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? The band reflects that they probably should have ended it there, but there was still another long thirteen years to go, along with five more studio albums, each one received more poorly than the last, before the band eventually imploded backstage at a Paris concert in 2009. It’s also strange timing from a marketing standpoint, given the deluxe re-issue of their third album, 1997’s Be Here Now earlier this month.
While leaving out a large section of the band’s history is unfortunate, at over 2-hours, Oasis: Supersonic does a great job of introducing us to this ragtag group of hooligans, who in just a few short years went from jamming in bedrooms to playing to some of the largest audiences in history. It’s the sort of massive, communal, cultural phenomenon that may not be possible again in the internet age, which makes the film all the more fascinating.