On 11th April 1994, a little rock band from Manchester released their first single – ‘Supersonic’. What followed was their record-setting debut album ‘Definitely Maybe’, and the iconic follow-up ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ which propelled the band from being an indie act to a worldwide rock phenomenon. But the wild lifestyles of the band members and the almost constant disputes between the frontmen/brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher were never ‘behind the scenes’, and eventually caused the demise of the group. It’s unlikely they will ever regroup. What led to this?
Well, if you’re looking for information on the band’s declining popularity in the late 1990s and eventual break-up, you’re in the wrong place. Mat Whitecross’s Oasis documentary, Supersonic, is little more than a rags-to-riches love letter to the band, and the era they existed in. The film ends in 1996, as Oasis take the stage in Knebworth before an unprecedented crowd. Supersonic has been referred to as ‘Oasis: The Golden Years’, and that is apt.
But if you’re a fan of the band, or someone who is susceptible to era-nostalgia, you’ll be in your element here. And as a film, Supersonic works. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of Oasis. I love Manchester music, don’t get me wrong – Joy Division, New Order, The Stone Roses, etc. – but there’s something about these guys that never clicked for me. Maybe it was the heavy 90s feel, or the brothers’ characters, or something else entirely. All I know is I’ve never had time for them, despite wholly respecting their talent and status. For me, that made Supersonic a more enticing watch – I didn’t know their story. And it is fascinating, which makes for an engrossing narrative.
All the principle players serve as off-screen narrators (with audio from new interviews), while the entire two hours of Supersonic is played out using almost entirely archive materials. TV clips, home videos, concert footage and animated photos accompany the band’s words as the story unfolds, and it works with a dazzling effect. The pace is relentless, telling the story of the band’s quick rise in a suitably frenetic style. This is a chronological rags-to-riches tale of success. For the most part, it is a story – rather than a reflection. The narrators aren’t discussing their legacy (at least, not until the end) but rather acting as storytellers. This is a refreshing approach. Too many documentaries spend too long talking with historians about why a certain subject has endured. It’s far more engrossing to just be told how the band grew from the band themselves. They’re all funny lads with enough charm and charisma to make every single anecdote memorable.
But this insistence to focus entirely on the band’s rise does leave out arguably the band’s most interesting era. While there was always sibling rivalry in the band, it was never as heated as it was toward the end – an era that is airbrushed out of history in this documentary. It’s subtly referred to in the film’s closing statements over footage of Knebworth, as the Gallaghers remark that they should’ve stopped then and gone out in a blaze of glory instead of dragging it out and arguably ruining it. Hindsight is a funny thing. But hey, maybe they’re saving all of that for Supersonic 2!
At the end of the day, Supersonic is still deserving of high praise. It is the sign of a good documentary if it can take a subject you’re not particularly interested in, and have you utterly absorbed for 2 hours. It hasn’t made me an Oasis fan, but it has given me a greater appreciation of them and what they did for music at the time. Like many documentaries of this genre, it is as much a love letter to the era as it is the subject. The film closes on the analysis that Oasis were the last big band of the pre-internet era, and music has never been the same since. Worryingly true.
Supersonic is a fascinating and engrossing watch for fans and newcomers alike. 4/5
Supersonic at CeX
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