Nothing about Oasis was small.
From its songs to its struggles to its sold-out gigs, everything about the British rock band that fairly defined the 1990s is big, an unassailable fact depicted early and often in the new documentary Oasis: Supersonic.
Opening and closing with the band’s 1996 two-night stand at Knebworth, which attracted a quarter-million fans and was hailed by critics as one of the decade’s landmark concerts, what rests in between the footage of that astonishing milestone is a surprisingly timid documentary.
Supersonic is not reticent, certainly, as this is the eternally loquacious Liam and Noel Gallagher we’re talking about. Yet given the full scope of the influential band’s career, which drew to a close in 2009, the documentary — screening for one night only (Oct. 26) in theaters — is frustratingly incomplete.
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The film, directed by Mat Whitecross (The Road to Guantanamo, The Shock Doctrine), focuses only on the first five years of Oasis’ existence, tracing the band’s origins from pub gigs in Glasgow (where Creation Records’ Alan McGee famously saw the band and signed them the same night) to releasing the finest Brit-rock one-two punch of the decade with 1994’s Definitely Maybe and 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Every member of Oasis sat for new interviews, but the band only appears onscreen in archival footage or animated segments, a tactic Whitecross employs to add a bit of visual attitude to an already ego-drenched narrative.
At its heart, Supersonic confronts the legendarily combative Gallagher brothers, allowing each ample opportunity to slag the other — Noel sums up their fractious relationship by saying he’s a cat, and Liam’s a dog — but it is clear, and several collaborators articulate as much, that this spiteful, combative fraternity provided the combustible fuel enabling Oasis’s swift ascent from obscurity to superstardom.
It’s hard to argue against what the Gallaghers and their bandmates wrought, however — Whitecross wisely lingers on many of the band’s indelible hits, like Champagne Supernova and Wonderwall, letting the durable music work its magic. (Although, as Liam notes: “Any band worth its salt is not just about the music.”)
Where Supersonic excels is at placing viewers within the maelstrom of hype whipped up by the British (and later, tabloid) press, as well as in the frenzied global push behind the band’s 1994 debut. The tale of Noel Gallagher’s decision to abandon the band and spontaneously head to San Francisco, which happened within the context of a methamphetamine-fueled promotional binge, is harrowing.
During the more candid sequences, particularly dealing with the Gallaghers’ turbulent childhood (Noel shuts down any conversation about physical abuse at the hands of his estranged father: “It’s no one’s business”), Supersonic’s strangely narrow focus is most aggravating. By ending the film in 1996, there’s no discussion of the band’s roundly criticized third album, 1997’s Be Here Now, which was seen then and now as a classic example of a superstar act’s reach exceeding its grasp, and which precipitated a long, slow slide from grace.
But before Supersonic concludes, Whitecross does allow a little melancholy to seep in. Noel muses — over footage from the triumphant Knebworth gigs — that Oasis was the last of a dying breed, an act capable of captivating the world before the internet atomized it and what he calls “talent show” performers rose to prominence. “Things meant more,” he says.
Proper context for and preservation of legacies is important, too. Given how canny the Gallaghers are about their image and relationship with the press, it’s entirely possible this documentary was made with the understanding that it would avoid the less-glamorous years (there are hints of the tabloid and drug troubles to come).
If so, that’s a shame, as Supersonic stands as a solid introduction to one of rock music’s essential acts, but is far from the thorough, complete examination it deserves.
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Alamo Drafthouse Cedars, Dallas
☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Mat Whitecross
Cast: Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Christine Biller
Rating: R (pervasive language, drug material)
Running time: 122 min.