At the 56-minute mark of Supersonic — Mat Whitecross’ documentary about the early ’90s rise of Britpop phenoms Oasis — the film appears to have what I like to call a “Billy Batts moment.” For those that haven’t seen Goodfellas: Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) is a loud-mouth associate of the film’s triptych of gangsters, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). Batts winds up being the film’s pivot point. Up until the moment Batts is introduced, Goodfellas charts the rise of its anti-heroes. But after an incident with Batts, the film marks the trio’s downfall.
In Supersonic — which plays nationwide in theaters for one night only on Wednesday — the ostensible Billy Batts pivot point is a gig at L.A.’s famed rock club Whiskey a Go Go, site of Oasis’ first American gig. “Someone had discovered the joys of crystal meth,” Oasis guitarist and primary songwriter Noel Gallagher cracks. He’s referring to his brother, Liam, who was supposedly inhaling crystal off of Oasis’ amplifiers between songs. The show did not go well.
For the first hour of Supersonic, Whitecross checks off the well-worn story points of the Oasis legend. Liam formed the band in 1991, and Noel joined soon after. Two working-class lads who grew up without a father, the brothers formed an uneasy symbiotic relationship: Liam provided the swagger and vocal snarl, and Noel supplied the songs and the vision. There were also dudes named Bonehead and Guigsy. But the focal point was always Liam and Noel. Within a few years, Oasis would write, record, and release the songs that made them superstars: “Live Forever,” “Wonderwall,” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”
This all feels a little familiar in the first half of Supersonic. Oasis’ story has already been told in various magazine profiles, books, documentaries, and Behind the Music specials. At least Whitecross has the benefit of access to the most important characters, including Liam, Noel, Bonehead, record producer Owen Morris, long-time band associate Mark Coyle, and the Gallaghers’ mother, Peggy. Similar to the 2015 Amy Whitehouse documentary Amy — that film’s director and producer are listed as executive producers of Supersonic — the interviewees are kept off-camera in order to emphasize archival clips of Oasis’ early days. Some of the footage, including a pivotal gig in Glasgow that helped Oasis land a record deal, will be of particular interest to super-fans, no matter how ordinary Oasis sounded before lightning struck.
As anyone who loves Oasis knows — and I’ve loved Oasis since I was a 16-year-old anglophile hooked on its world-beating debut, Definitely Maybe — the band’s fall was just as spectacular as its rise. Oasis’ flameout was marked by all of the essential rock-star elements: drug abuse, in-fighting, inflated egos, drug abuse, millions of misspent dollars, drug abuse, and an epic, semi-disastrous album that exhausted the public’s goodwill. While Oasis didn’t falter immediately after that fateful night at the Whiskey — the stateside breakthrough of Oasis’ second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, was still one year away — the seeds of the band’s self-destruction were sown that day.
However, the “downward spiral” part of Oasis’ history is conspicuously absent from Supersonic. This film doesn’t have a “Billy Batts moment,” because it doesn’t delve into Oasis’ decline at all. Instead, Supersonic ends where it begins, depicting Oasis’ ultimate moment of triumph in 1996 at Knebworth, the U.K. venue where Oasis played for 250,000 fans over two sold-out nights.
Over footage of an endless sea of surging humanity, Bonehead articulates what seems to be the thesis of Supersonic –perhaps Oasis would’ve been better off breaking up right there and then, when it was still on top.
No doubt plenty of Oasis fans believe that. But in terms of storytelling, reducing the Oasis saga down to simply a tale of triumph ultimately feels a little unsatisfying. For those of us who continued to love Oasis even after its moment passed, what made the band interesting wasn’t just its inspiring rags-to-riches story, but also the many failures the band encountered (and successfully navigated) for more than a decade after Knebworth. Lots of rock ‘n’ roll bands have come from nowhere to achieve mass stardom. But few groups have had as many entertaining debacles as Oasis, and endured (for a while, anyway, until the band’s break-up in 2009).