If you were a British kid in the nineties, Oasis were ubiquitous, unavoidable so, I’d bet even my mother (who has zero interest in rock music of any kind) could probably name you a few Oasis songs. To that point, it might be fair to wonder just what this new documentary revisiting the band’s heyday would really have to offer, at least to anyone who wasn’t too young at the time to be aware. A reasonable assumption you might think? Well, only if you’ve never heard an interview with Noel Gallagher before.
Put simply, the man is fucking hilarious. He has this unique, seemingly contradictory quality in which he can be by turns arrogant and self-aggrandising to ridiculous extremes, declaring himself to be the ‘greatest songwriter in the world’ and such, yet simultaneously be completely self-aware of this, and down-to-earth in the way he profanely describes his path through the music business that led him to fame and fortune (if you’ve never heard his audio commentary for Oasis’s music videos – it’s hysterical). Noel is a born storyteller, and it likely won’t surprise any long-term fans to learn that his many anecdotes are a constant highlight of Supersonic (called Oasis: Supersonic in some territories).
The film is executively produced by Senna and Amy director Asif Kapadia, and director Mat Whitecross makes a more then solid stab at replicating the style Kapadia pioneered. That is, having visuals made almost entirely of archive footage while newly recorded interviews play over them only in audio form (with name cards helpfully appearing to always remind you who’s talking). It works extremely well here, keeping all present day visuals off-screen help to immerse you in the period the film recollects, and there isn’t a single moment when you feel it might benefit from a talking head or too.
This approach, while brilliantly edited throughout does inevitably lead to a few moments when you’re left thinking that Whitecross was extremely fortunate that someone happened to be filming at this seemingly random point in the early nineties (he draws from a wealth of material including stills), and a few others when clearly one piece of older footage has been used to stand in for an event it isn’t actually depicting, but in general it aids the story and rarely detracts. There are naturally going to be a few key moments for which no surviving footage exists, and Supersonic works around this using an entertaining style of animation with cut-out images of related objects and such appearing on screen. It’s particularly amusing when used to illustrate an altercation involving a cricket bat.
Despite utilising many of the same techniques as Kapadia’s films, Supersonic differs greatly in tone. This won’t come as a surprise considering how Kapadia’s films both profiled figures whose career led them to tragically young deaths, but it’s pleasing to see that the technique can be equally as effective when chronicling a celebratory time such as Oasis’s early-mid nineties period.
Their music aside, the most famous aspect of Oasis is the turbulent relationship between Liam and Noel Gallagher, the two warring brothers who led the band. While that it certainly a key theme that’s explored in the film, with both acknowledging up front that it’s what ultimately led to the demise of the band, neither expresses any particular animosity towards the other here (they’re also both producers). Indeed, they are also both very open about the band’s early failings and their occasionally idiotic rock star excesses that once led to Noel temporarily leaving the band.
Interviewing them separately is something that plays very much to the film’s advantage though, giving us moments when they each mock one another while admitting their envy, and some amusing stories of which their separate recollections do not quite match up. While Liam and Noel take centre stage for the duration of the film, many other Oasis collaborators chime in at necessary moments with insightful soundbites as to how the band came to be as well, including producers, fellow musicians and their mother.
What Supersonic doesn’t touch on, is Oasis’s storied rivalry with fellow iconic Britpop band Blur, which is probably for the best at this point anyhow as it would in all likelihood adversely distract from the main narrative.
Over the course of two hours, Supersonic charts Oasis’s multiple false starts to world conquering success with their landmark Knebworth gig in 1996, which bookends the film. It seems now that this is the time period Noel and Liam both would prefer to be remembered for. You can see why watching this film, and it makes a strong, nostalgia-tinged case for the nineties being the last time when a rock band could have gone from such humble beginnings to the country’s most popular music act in such a short time.
If I had one big criticism of the film, it’s that it makes next-to-no mention of the fact that Oasis continued on for more than a decade after the film ends in during which they produced plenty of mediocre and forgettable music. It does at least though feature both Gallaghers interestingly suggesting that there was some alternate reality in which Oasis called it a day in 1996, and wondering just what their legacy would be if they had. Still, the music Whitecross features throughout is nearly all made up of clips from their key songs of the era portrayed, including rare early takes and so on. He never gives in to the easy indulgence of letting the music video and concert footage play long, but there’s always enough to remind you that Oasis’ material at the time was all solid gold.
It might not have a great deal new to say about one of Britain’s most iconic bands, but Supersonic is a top rockumentary that’s also one of the year’s funniest films. The brilliant editing and hilarious interviews easily mean that this is a documentary that should have appeal beyond Oasis’s ageing fanbase. And to those who think they already know the story, and indeed the music; Supersonic proves that these are glory days worth reliving.