For a brief period, Oasis was the biggest, greatest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet — they’d tell you so themselves, unprompted, as they do often in “Oasis: Supersonic.” Over a three-year stretch, from when Noel Gallagher joined his kid brother Liam’s Manchester-based band to when they played to 250,000 people (out of 2.6 million who applied for tickets) at England’s Knebworth Festival in August 1996, Oasis was world-conquering in a Legends of Rock, pre-cultural-splintering kind of way.
This band’s meteoric rise could be likened to a … what do you call it? … supernova — a Champagne one even, whatever that means. Oasis blew up in smaller ways too: singer Liam tossing a tambourine at guitarist-songwriter Noel mid-song and storming out of shows; Noel braining Liam with a cricket bat; the two repeatedly professing their loving hatred of one another.
Director Mat Whitecross (“The Road to Guantanamo,” the Ian Dury biopic “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”) concentrates solely on that early-to-mid-’90s stretch when Oasis got too big too quickly but enjoyed the epic nature of it all. “Supersonic” boasts an ear-blasting, you-are-there immediacy, utilizing a treasure trove of archival photos and footage to make you feel present as Noel serves as drum technician for fellow Manchester band Inspiral Carpets before he attends the Liam-led Oasis’ first gig and starts contributing the songs that would make this band very famous. (One of the earliest ones he’s shown playing is “All Around the World,” which wouldn’t become a hit until 1998.)
“Supersonic” is all about the big, yet it thrives on small moments, such as when time appears to stop for Liam as he calmly processes the crowd frenzy in London’s Earl’s Court arena. “This is the best feeling in the world,” he says in voiceover, the camera isolating him. “Pure control.”
Whitecross deftly handles other personal bits as well, such as the Gallagher brothers’ abusive father and his impact on each boy, though the mom, Peggie Gallagher, gets the sharpest line: “I left him a knife and a spoon and a fork, and I left him too much.”There’s also one observer’s nifty summation of Noel’s and Liam’s relationship: “Noel has a lot of buttons; Liam has a lot of fingers.”
The interviews, which encompass almost all of the principal figures, appear in voiceover, the images remaining fixed in the ever-present past. Whitecross captions the voices because Liam and Noel don’t sound remarkably dissimilar, and almost everyone has a way with thickly accented F-bombs and colorful, often self-directed insults.
If you don’t have much appetite for drug-happy, ornery blokes who get into a drunken brawl on the ferry to their first European gig, use fire extinguishers in inappropriate ways and snort far too much crystal meth before their disastrous debut at Los Angeles’ Whiskey a Go Go, “Supersonic” may grate. But classic busted-band sagas are supposed to be rooted in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, though that first component is an afterthought here.
What’s really missing from this music-drenched documentary is, oddly enough, much about the music. There’s terrific footage of the band recording its first two albums, rehearsing together and performing, and you get a sense of Noel’s underlying sensitivity and Liam’s charisma as he sings “my imagin-ay-shee-YUN!” like Johnny Rotten channeling John Lennon.
But for anyone at all familiar with this era, it’s odd to note that the following term never is uttered: Britpop. Oasis was Britpop’s poster child, along with antagonistic rival Blur and other bands (Pulp, Suede) that aren’t acknowledged here.
You’d never know that the so-called “Battle of Britpop” between Oasis’ blustery Beatles and Blur’s slinky Kinks climaxed during this movie’s timeframe, when Oasis’ “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” album was moving the masses to sing about being someone’s wonderwall, whatever that is (aside from a George Harrison reference). Even Noel’s Beatles obsession is barely acknowledged, and it’s not like Oasis, for all of its skill and brio, was championed for its originality.
With Noel and Liam Gallagher serving as executive producers while narrating much of the story — without ever apparently getting together — “Supersonic” is all about the rollercoaster ride to the top and the greatness of the view, even as it hints at the steep decline to come. Not mentioned: Oasis actually went on to record five more albums before Noel and Liam had their final bust-up in 2009.
The brothers discuss the band’s arc as if maybe they should’ve packed it in after “Morning Glory.” At the same time, you get the feeling that if any of these bandmates could recapture just a moment of that peak glory, they would.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Mark Caro hosts the “Is It Still Funny?” film series at the Music Box.
A24presents a documentarydirected by Mat Whitecross. Rated R(for pervasive language and some drug material). Running time: 122minutes. Screens Wednesday and Thursday at the Music Box Theatre.