It’s one of the most beautiful and terrible facts about this sick sad world: Talent doesn’t get to choose a person, and a person doesn’t get to choose a talent. It’s a total crapshoot, a lottery that we all have to live with. Few things on Earth are as rewarding, as destructive, or as infinitely varied as the friction generated between the purity of divine inspiration and the pollution of its human host. Sometimes those independent forces are in perfect sync with each other, and we get the Beatles — other times it’s like the fates forgot to carry a number when they were sorting things out, and we get Oasis.
How else to explain how brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, two absolute wankers from Manchester, became the biggest thing to happen to British music since the Fab Four walked across Abbey Road? It wasn’t because they put in their 10,000 hours of practice, or because they were the ideal ambassadors of Britpop — it certainly wasn’t because they were empowered by a shared bond, or attracted a stable cast of talented bandmates (they went through bass players the way that bass players go through guitar picks). No, it was because Noel, who Liam describes him as “a bit of a cunt,” was one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. And it’s because Liam, whose older brother brilliantly once sized up as “a man with a fork in a world of soup,” could sing the songs that Noel wrote better than anybody else on the planet.
Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple, but any further insight is hard to find in Mat Whitecross’ “Oasis: Supersonic,” which looks at the band’s breakthrough years through the eye of the hurricane, and is considerably less concerned with what’s causing the storm than it is with the extent of the damage the storm is causing in kind. Produced by “Amy” director Asif Kapadia and clearly informed by the immediacy of his approach, Whitecross’ film is a blur of uncensored archival footage from the afterbirth of Oasis, short on context and long on never-before-seen video of Liam and Noel swearing at each other in the studio.
To that end, “Supersonic” is a poignant and insightful look into one of the most openly fractious sibling rivalries of our time. These days, Liam and Noel only talk to each other on Twitter, but back then they were the Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr of rock and roll, except they were related by blood, and that blood was always pumped full of cocaine (the arguments between them were so famously fierce that one of their rows was recorded and included on a bootleg of the band’s material). The thinking goes that Noel brought the creativity and Liam brought the charisma, but “Supersonic” fleshes out their dynamic in ways that occasionally cut deeper than the tabloid fodder these belligerent men still manage to inspire.
In addition to tracing their troubles back to an abusive father, the film captures how certain things are set in stone, how fame can change can only change so much about who people are. How, even when he was in the midst of writing a song as immense as “Champagne Supernova,” Noel would still look at Liam and sighed: “There’s not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could rock a parka like that man.” It’s the saddest thing anyone has ever said about an ugly jacket.
It’s also a rare moment of poignancy for a band whose unvarnished hooligan swagger was a selling point. Oasis was Britpop’s greatest and most profitable car crash, and “Supersonic” is rubbernecking at the carnage along with the rest of us. It’s a remarkable time capsule, and the whiplash of overnight fame has seldom been captured with such visceral force, but the film is so high on the absurdity of it all that it never relays any palpable sense of what it really feels like to suddenly be given everything you’ve ever wanted. In part, that’s because Noel and Liam are such stubbornly aloof individuals — and the movie itself takes their success for granted and doesn’t relay any sense of what they did to earn it. If you don’t already live under the assumption that “Definitely Maybe” is a great album, or worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as “The Bends,” then there’s not much of an access point here when it comes to the history of the whole thing.
Want to learn about why their music thrust them to the crest of the Britpop wave, or to know more about the Gallaghers’ trumped up war with Damon Albarn and his crowd? Sod off. Want to relive that time when this group of nobheads snorted a whole bunch of crystal meth before one of their first U.S. shows, and then — upon taking the stage — each proceeded to play a different song at the same time? You’ve come to the right place.
Watching these bumbling geniuses create and collide and fall out, I couldn’t help but think of a bit from Stuart Murdoch’s “God Help the Girl” in which one young musician articulates his idea of achieving artistic immortality. “Many women and men have lived empty, wasted lives in attics trying to write classic pop songs,” he declares. “What they don’t realize is it’s not for them to decide. It’s God. Or, the god of music. Or, the part of God that concerns Himself with music. That’s why the hit maker has to be considered part divine because the divine spoke through them.” The divine spoke through Noel and Liam Gallagher, but it always had to yell over everything else the two of them had to say for themselves.
“Oasis: Supersonic” will play in theaters for one night only on October 26, 2016.