Rock documentaries have been coming fast and furious of late, but few have been faster or more furious than “Oasis: Supersonic,” which uses a lightning rush of archival footage, interviews and graphics to cover the first years of the British band that enjoyed meteoric success in the early nineties before sputtering out—or rather entering a long decline that continued until a final breakup in 2009.
Bookended by footage of the 1996 outdoor concerts at Knebworth House in Hertfortshire, which lured a quarter of a million fans to the two performances, and featuring scads of clips of rehearsals, recording sessions and performances, Mat Whitecross’ film nevertheless has at its center the relationship between Noel and Liam Gallagher, the council-estate brothers from Manchester whose scorpions-in-a-bottle attitude toward one another was at the root of both the band’s volcanic success and its capacity for abrupt self-destructiveness. Both the archival footage of their younger days and their recent interviews reflect a love-and-hate connection that the film vividly depicts but fails to explain, simply because it is, like so many human realities, inexplicable.
There are, however, clues that a psychologist might well seize upon. Though their mother Peggie offers mostly genial general observations about their growing up and neither brother wants to talk about their long-absent father, the recounting of the anger that Liam, in particular, exhibited when the “old man” showed up at an event in Dublin when they had made it big—part of his effort to wring some profit out of the fervid tabloid interest in the band—makes it clear that there were deep wounds that go unexplored here.
If one might regret that there’s no “Rosebud” moment in the film—and that the film makes absolutely no mention of the more than a decade in the band’s history after 1996—there’s still an enormous amount of revealing, often hilarious material. The account of the band’s formation and signing by Alan McGee of Creation Records depicts the throwaway exuberance of the group, and the coverage of the brouhaha that attended their scheduled international debut in the Netherlands (complete with deportation) shows the Gallaghers at their most nonchalantly naughty, while the footage of the band’s disastrously drugged-out set in Los Angeles—their introduction to the decision-makers in the American music business—is even funnier.
The comings-and-goings of members of the band, on the other hand, aren’t equally humorous matters, nor is the unscheduled disappearance of Noel to take an impromptu trip to San Francisco during the American tour, which introduces a rare pause in the frenzy of the early Oasis days.
And yet apart from the tantalizing suggestion of serious daddy issues, the portrait of Liam and Noel Gallagher drawn in “Supersonic” isn’t a tragic one; as the interview excerpts demonstrate, they—as well as the other band members—retain a rough, off-the-cuff appreciation of the unlikely success they enjoyed and a disdain for complaining about setbacks.
Above all, however, there is the music, a solid selection of which the documentary offers over the course of the two-hour running-time. The talk is engaging and the background footage interesting, but as always it’s the songs that matter. Briskly directed by Whitecross and edited by Paul Monaghan, “Supersonic” provides a fine, if hectic snapshot of the golden years of the band—the triumphs onstage and the brotherly bickering backstage.