Review: ‘Oasis: Supersonic’ is a wildly entertaining blast of bombast

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Here’s my Film Stage review of SUPERSONIC, which screened in Buffalo and across the nation on October 26.

Oliver Stone. That’s the filmmaker who should have been asked to chronicle the career of Oasis, the hugely successful, ever-combustible, now-departed kings of Britpop. Looking at the entirety of the band’s lifespan — from the early 1990s to break-up in 2008 — it’s hard not to notice the trademarks of Doors-era Stone: controversies, fisticuffs, conspiracies, bravery, insanity, ego, vulnerability, lust, and violence. In rock and roll, these are positives, and the joys that emanate from such feelings and behavior is certainly on display in Oasis: Supersonic, a Noel and Liam Gallagher-approved documentary. The band’s career, however, is not really the subject of the new documentary directed by Mat Whitecross and from the producers of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary. Instead, Supersonic is about the rise of the band, the period from birth to its two concerts (to 250,000 attendees) at Knebworth.

And that’s fine, since Supersonic is a wildly entertaining blast of energy and bombast. There are few successes in music history quite like the one-two punch of Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, and the film’s mix of interviews, videos, concert scenes, and unseen footage is, in a word, stunning. Even die-hard Oasis fans will be floored by scenes of the band’s first concert with Noel Gallagher, at Scotland’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in 1993. (Not to mention video from the band’s infamous Whisky A Go Go bust-up in 1994, as well as a rehearsal room performance of “All Around the World” from the early 90s.)

Told mostly in chronological order after opening with the band’s epic Knebworth concerts (minus a few time jumps), Supersonic moves from the Gallagher brothers’ youthful antics to the start of Oasis, signing by Creation Records, the remarkable successes of Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, and… that’s it. The Knebworth gigs surely represent the apex of Oasis’s popularity, but hitting the brakes here may disappoint the band’s most hardcore fans. Those hoping for tales of the 2007 bust-up that killed the band must look elsewhere. Newer fans and those with only a modest interest in Oasis are likely to walk away a bit more impressed by the film, and what the Gallaghers accomplished. As Noel puts it in the film, “I don’t think anybody will ever be able to fully explain to people, who are maybe like teenagers now, what a colossal thing Oasis was in the lives of anybody who gave a shit about music,” Gallagher said.

Indeed, Supersonic does a fine job of showing just how large-scale the phenomenon was: countless concert scenes, lots of snappin’ paparazzi, and some stunningly nasty put-downs from Noel to “has-beens” like the late Michael Hutchence. More intriguing are the photos and stories from Noel and Liam’s childhood in the Manchester suburb of Burnage. The unsung hero of these early scenes is surely mom Peggie Gallagher, a hard-working, loving figure forced to hold down several jobs. Her husband was physically abusive, and the scenes described by Peggie, Noel, Liam, and third brother Paul are harrowing. Psychologically, we learn much about the brothers’ Gallagher here, and the reappearance of their father at the height of the band’s popularity is both sad and expected.

The opposite is true of, well, much of the film. There are moments of (sometimes surreal) humor, specifically an animated re-creation of a drunken ferry ride to Amsterdam, some studio hijinks during the making of Morning Glory, and Noel’s admission that Liam oozed the rock-star charisma that he [Noel] did not: “He had a great haircut, a great walk.” Noel, in particular, comes across as the most thoughtful member of the band. (Sorry, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan; only the former agreed to be interviewed for Supersonic.) The most startling example might be his memories of writing the song “Supersonic” during the time it took for the other members of the band to eat some take-out food. Liam Gallagher’s starpower remains undeniable; whether messing about at the Definitely Maybe cover shoot or pontificating poolside in Japan, it’s clear his magnetism was as important to Oasis’s success as the hooks of “Live Forever” and “Wonderwall.”

Supersonic truly blasts off after Definitely Maybe drops, and the band is hurtled toward international popularity. The film ends with 1996’s Knebworth concerts, and this means we never see the drug-fueled excess of Be Here Now, not to mention the fascinating place Oasis found themselves in after the tide turned against that record. It’s understandable that Whitecross chose Knebworth as an ending point, since the band never again commanded the attention of the zeitgeist on that scale. It takes for granted that we all know what happened from then on — as Liam puts it late in the film, “We were never gonna do ten rounds” — but leaves us wanting more. Perhaps that’s what every music documentary should aspire to.

Yet as a longtime Oasis fan, it’s hard not to see Supersonic as something of a missed opportunity. There are some surprisingly notable omissions. The band’s influences — The Beatles (of course), The Smiths, The Stone Roses — are barely acknowledged. (We do hear a Stone Roses tune in the background of an early scene; interestingly, Whitecross previously directed the 2012 ensemble comedy Spike Island, which used the Roses’ famous concert as its backdrop.) The controversial 1996 MTV Unplugged performance, which saw Liam drop out due to vocal issues, is unmentioned, an odd choice considering the major headlines it caused. Also missing is the band’s 1996 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Champagne Supernova,” notable for Liam’s slow gob at song’s end. “Britpop” and “Cool Britannia” are never uttered. But most noteworthy is the film’s failure to include the infamous “Blur vs. Oasis” battle of summer 1995. The simultaneous release of Blur’s “Country House” and Oasis’s “Roll With It” was the starting point for the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever, so this ground has indeed been covered on film. Still, the band’s “loss” to Blur, followed by a gargantuan victory on the album charts, is an undeniably important moment in the group’s history, and U.K. music in general.

Interestingly, Whitecross chooses to use only voice-over; we never seen the Noel and Liam (not to mention Bonehead or Guigsy) of today. It’s a surprising move, as watching the brothers speak is often more interesting than what they actually say. There’s also a surplus amount of concert footage. (My friend Anthony Chabala, a longtime expert regarding the instruments used by the band, considers Supersonic a concert film with biographical embellishments.) Even with these minor quibbles, we’re left with a film that is undeniably strong, and never less that hugely entertaining. The only logical criticisms, in fact, relate to what’s left out. There is still a great, epic, full account of the Oasis story to be told. In the meantime, we have Supersonic, a reminder of a time when two brothers born in poverty and bred on Beatles took over the world. It didn’t last long, but it was one helluva ride. Above all else, Supersonic captures that feeling.

Oasis: Supersonic screens for one night only on Wednesday, October 26.

 

Preview: The Oasis documentary, ‘Supersonic,’ screens on Oct. 26

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The Oasis documentary Supersonic was a late addition to my October Coming Attractions column for Buffalo Spree. My write-up is below, and watch this space for my Film Stage review of the film.

Oasis—Supersonic: A documentary about Noel and Liam Gallagher’s Oasis, the battling Britpop supernovas behind “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” from the producers of Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc Amy? Yes, please. A24 is releasing Supersonic in America, and the distributor has scheduled one-night-only screenings for October 26 nationwide. Whether you love the Gallaghers or not, watch the trailer at supersonic-movie.com and tell me you’re not intrigued. This could turn out to be one of the most entertaining documentaries of 2016. (7 p.m. on October 26 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Guest Column: Anthony Chabala Shines a Light on Beady Eye’s Epic New Video

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FilmSwoon’s first-ever guest columnist Anthony Chabala and I once traveled to New York City and sat outside a Manhattan movie theater from about 2 a.m. until roughly 5 p.m. in order to see the premiere of the Oasis concert documentary “Lord, Don’t Slow Me Down.” (Interestingly, that screening warranted an entry on the film’s Wikipedia page: “A handful of fans-only private screenings took place around the world with the world premiere of the film at the Directors Guild Theater in New York City on 4 November 2006 as part of the CMJ Film Festival.” (Our long wait was memorably referenced in Britain’s New Musical Express, but I cannot find the link.)

It was a memorable weekend that was undoubtedly worth it. Why do I bring it up? To demonstrate the commitment Anthony has to Oasis, and now, to Liam Gallagher and Beady Eye. BDI released a new video this week, and it is the band’s finest to date. Here, Anthony takes a close look at Beady Eye’s “Shine a Light,” a single from the band’s second album, “BE.”

This week, British superpower Beady Eye released the official video for their latest single, “Shine a Light,” directed by Charlie Lightening, a Manchester native who is slated to be the next Spike Jonze. Both band and director created what I consider to be the one of the best music videos since the early 1990s, a time when music was awful but the videos were often beautifully filmed mini motion pictures. (Remember the videos for “November Rain” or “Estranged” by Guns N Roses?)

It seems that the good people writing the Beady Eye checks finally accepted the fact that in order to make money, you have to spend money. Unlike prior attempts, their latest video has extras, locations, wardrobe changes, effects, and most importantly, clarity — you can actually see the band. Ever since the days of the camera spinning above Liam Gallagher decked out in a full beard and Lennon glasses in the “Champagne Supernova” video, tried and true Oasis fans (and non-Oasis fans alike) have wanted to be Liam Gallagher. But with no equally memorable videos for more nearly two decades, this intense audience longing went seemingly cold … until this week, that is. Past Beady Eye videos were serviceable, to be sure, but they looked more like something an Andy Warhol wannabe made on a film-school budget rather than an actual piece of pristine promotion set out to advertise a band ready to take over the world.

Beady Eye are not only who I consider to be the best band in the world right now, they are undoubtedly the coolest looking. Liam Gallagher has always looked like he is ready to hit either the stage or the runway, and he still does. Guitarist Gem Archer resembles a young Paul McCartney, if McCartney were young in the year 3069. Bassist Andy Bell pulls off the nonchalant indie-rock star look that (with or without knowing) the Arctic Monkeys and all their offspring have taken credit for. New member Jay Mehler has that malnourished millionaire look we all hoped Ian Brown would end up with but never did. And the forever stylish Chris Sharrock … well, he drummed on “There She Goes,” so he could dress like Elton John during his Donald Duck hat phase and still be too cool for school. The point is, these are guys that you want to pretend to be when you are watching the “Shine a Light” video, and that feeling of audience intoxication has not only been lacking in Beady Eye videos, but music promotion in general.

“Shine a Light” features Liam Gallagher surrounded by beautiful, naked women. Why would you want Liam Gallagher surrounded by anything else but beautiful, naked women?! The video also has Liam dressed as both a devilish rock star heathen and then an innocent looking “man of the cloth.” His religious aura and momentary Christ-like pose while standing in front of a glimmering white light might not be subtle — you don’t have to be a character in a Dan Brown novel to decipher the symbols here — but they all make for great viewing.

My favorite part of the video is the highly elaborate and extremely well done “Last Supper”-like sequence. Here you have the band, a couple nuns, Liam the priest, and Liam the sinner, all at one table. A screenshot of this mad breaking of bread easily makes for album cover of the century. Plus, it has Beady Eye and Heavy Stereo legend Gem Archer, sitting at a table piled high with more charred meat than Donatella Versace’s tanning bed has ever seen … and he is a vegetarian.

This video brought me back to my youth. Back then, music videos were a way of knowing what my heroes looked like, and looking the part is just as important as sounding the part — paint no illusion. I was 15 years old when I stayed home all night to watch Liam in the “D’You Know What I Mean?” video, and I then had to go out and get the haircut, sunglasses, and green parka he wore. I was 16 when I first laid hands on Heavy Stereo’s Deja Voodoo LP, and to this day I am constantly searching eBay for the Indian Motorcycles shirt that Gem Archer dons in the studio photos. (I’ve come close sooo many times, but at least I ended up with the same Converse, and, at one time or another, have owned a near identical copy of every guitar he has ever been seen touching.) The image plays a crucial role in the overall product, and this video has the ingredients to act as a great promotional tool to gain new audiences and remind the Beady Eye faithful of why the members of this band are deserving of their place in music history.

Whether you loved Oasis or not, this is a video and a band worth checking out. If you are let down, I’m pretty sure Liam would say something along the lines of, “There’s something wrong with you, not us!”