If any rock & roll saga merits a super-sized Behind the Music treatment, it’s the Oasis story. And that’s pretty much what we get in Supersonic, a new two-hour documentary on the wild ride of Noel and Liam Gallagher and their early bandmates during Oasis’ peak years. (The movie ends in 1996 and cries out for a sequel that delves into the band’s later output and their 2009 dissolution.) Supersonic will screen as part of this year’s British Film Festival, starting this weekend.
Based on interviews with band members, family and assorted members of their posse, Supersonic, directed by Mat Whitecross, is no pro-forma doc, especially in the way it uses animation and voice-overs in creative ways. Given its pedigree, that’s not surprising: The movie was produced by Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees, who won an Oscar for their work on the Amy Winehouse doc Amy. What is surprising is how much one can still glean from the Gallagher brothers’ ongoing parade of sibling rivalry and debauchery. Here are 10 things we learned watching it.
1. For a brief period, Oasis really were huge.
Twenty years after their peak – two shows at Knebworth in the summer of 1996 – it’s easy to forget just how massive they were before it all came tumbling down. Supersonic‘s glimpses of Oasis fever are eye-opening: the crowds lining up at U.K. record stores who helped the band break first-week sales records with their 1994 debut Definitely Maybe, the hundreds of thousands who trekked to Knebworth, the nonstop tabloid headlines. They were hardly the last rock & roll band, but Supersonic makes you wonder about the last time a guitar band incited that sort of mania.
2. Tension between the Gallagher brothers started early on.
In one moment in the film, Liam recalls an early argument between him and Noel when they were sharing a room (presumably as teens, although he doesn’t specify). “One night I come in pissed and I couldn’t find the light switch so I pissed all over his new stereo,” he says. “I think it basically boils down to that.” Noel does admit in the film that his brother knows how to “rock a parka,” though, which is very true.
3. They truly were Beatlemaniacs.
While they were ruling the charts in the U.K. (and doing pretty well here in the States), Oasis were frequently compared to the Beatles in terms of both fan fervor and Noel’s classic-songcraft skills. (And Supersonic will make you fall in love with “Champagne Supernova” and “Live Forever” all over again.) During early rehearsal footage, a Beatles poster is visible right behind Liam – who is also wearing a Fab T-shirt.
4. Liam initially suggested that Noel be the band’s manager.
Noel, of course, wasn’t a founding member of Oasis, and when he showed up for one of the band’s first gigs, his younger brother suggested Noel run the show behind the scenes. Thankfully, a few weeks later, Liam invited Noel, who’d already begun writing songs, to jam with them: As we hear Noel recall, “Second time I went, Liam was going, ‘Play the fucking song you played us.'” In the film, Noel says it was a “myth” that he demanded to join the band.
5. Their mom thinks they were doomed from the start.
Peggy Gallagher, who left her allegedly abusive husband and took their kids with her, saw it coming. When Liam was born, she says, it took “the limelight” off Noel. After they signed their first deal, “Then it went haywire.” The power struggle between the brothers for control of the band is a recurring motif in the film.
6. Crystal meth wrecked their American launch.
Their first U.S. show, at the Whisky a Go Go in 1994, was a notorious trainwreck; thanks to a mix-up with set lists, each member of the band started playing a different song at one point. That footage is here in all its insane glory, but the doc also cites another reason for the onstage travesty: crystal meth. Oasis had discovered it right before the gig and misused it: “We all thought it was coke and were doing big fucking lines of it,” Liam recalls. The band was up for days, resulting in the hot mess onstage.
7. Inter-band relations were never the same after that show.
Disgusted by the band (and his brother throwing a tambourine at him), Noel informed their road manager that he was leaving Oasis and returning home to England. In the end, they found him in San Francisco, at the home of a woman he no longer remembers. But more telling is Noel’s comment: “After that night, it was more me and them as opposed to us.”
8. Their career was one big selfie.
As their mother recalls in Supersonic, Liam once told her, “We’re going to be famous one day.” And from the looks of it, Oasis were counting on it: The film presents tons of early footage of gigs and rehearsals. You almost sense that they knew that, someday, someone would make a movie like Supersonic. As Liam says, “We’re the most arrogant fucking bastards.”
9. Their original drummer still holds a grudge.
Tony McCarroll was booted out of the band after their first album and later sued them. He settled out of court for around $700,000, but his somber comment in Supersonic about his firing – “I think about it every day” – is one of the film’s most subtly powerful moments.
10. They don’t make rock stars like they used to.
Repeatedly throughout Supersonic, the Gallaghers – sometimes with band members like Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs happily joining in – trash hotel rooms, get deported (once), do tons of drugs, fight with each other and audience members, and wreak havoc during their own recording sessions. It’s almost impossible to remember the last time a big-league rock band engaged in any or all of that commotion so publicly. Oasis crammed all that craziness into a few short years – yet another reason to feel newly nostalgic for the Nineties.