Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn
Director: John Dower
LIVE FOREVER is an ambitious attempt to trace the rise of Britpop, the musical movement born of the 1990’s that seemed to signal a sea-change in the nation’s consciousness away from the slick selfish flamboyance of the Eighties. In its stead we were left with a more earthy, self-aware mindset that could celebrate ordinary people indulging in commonplace activities and make them seem worthy and vital. LIVE FOREVER goes further still and suggests that this mini-revolution in music was merely the most telling symptom of a larger cultural upheaval which impacted on all artistic, social, and, ultimately, political movements in 90’s Britain. It’s a grand proposition, and one that requires more than the soundbites, intermittent musical critique, and fractured commentary that comprise LIVE FOREVER’s flimsy 82 minutes running time.
The inspiration behind LIVE FOREVER is clear: Julien Temple’s excellent documentary THE FILTH AND THE FURY (2000) was a history of The Sex Pistols that looked beyond the musical impact of the band and framed them in a socio-political context. But whilst THE FILTH AND THE FURY was tightly structured and brilliantly edited, LIVE FOREVER is flabby and confusing.
By attempting to give equal second-billing to art, fashion, politics, current affairs, et al LIVE FOREVER is side-tracked and scuppered by its own ambition. Writer/director John Dower and producer John Battsek attempt to cram too much into limited screentime; consequently, they are hamstrung by the need to embellish what should essentially be a music documentary with extraneous factors. Some of these instances of cross-reference are perfectly valid: Noel Gallagher visiting 10 Downing Street and Blur’s co-axial friendship with artist Damien Hirst for example. However, the puzzling decision to connect the death of Princess Diana with the release of Oasis’s self-indulgent behemoth BE HERE NOW simply because they occurred in the same month is indicative of the diffusion of intent inherent in LIVE FOREVER.
Of the several documentaries fighting for supremacy within LIVE FOREVER one does at least effect the pretence of a serious appraisal of the music. Various albums that the Johns consider to be representative of the era are marked out for analysis. However, the choice of albums and/or the extent of discussion is largely dictated by the availability of interviewees. Thus, whilst Massive Attack have two featured albums, DUMMY by Portishead is merely name-checked ion the context of the geographical proximity to Bristol of the place from which the band take their name.
Where LIVE FOREVER does gain some merit is in the contributions of what Battsek and Dower consider to be the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Britpop: Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn, and the Gallagher brothers. Cocker is dour, almost regretful, as if by contemplating the aftermath of Pulp’s success he feels betrayed by the side-effects of celebrity and financial reward. Liam provides comedy value: created and feted by those around him he has a monochrome personality and his response to any given question is to be suspicious, defiant, and proudly ignorant. This is in huge contrast to the relaxed, co-operative, and, occasionally, self-deprecating repose of Noel. The older Gallagher is the star of the film and he alone gains it an extra mark in the rating. His honest easy-going nature provides a telling juxtaposition to the conceit that is evident in Albarn’s tortured artiste. When these two heavyweights discuss events that both were embroiled in (invitations to Downing Street; the chart battle between COUNTRY HOUSE and ROLL WITH IT), Gallagher is open and amusing whereas Albarn is guarded and inimical towards the interviewer.
As a subject for documentary treatment Britpop is a worthy choice. So, too, is the changing zeitgeist of 90’s Britain; or the homogenising of British politics; or, indeed, the brief cultural renaissance dubbed ‘Cool Britannia’. Undoubtedly the relationship of one to the other would require consideration in such a documentary; however, LIVE FOREVER is not that documentary. It is unfocussed and fails to adhere to a consistent tone. Metaphorically, LIVE FOREVER is the BE HERE NOW of documentaries: an overblown slice of self-important bombast that takes itself too seriously. The concept is brimful of promise but self-indulgence and compromise weigh down the end result. Its scope far outweighs its abilities. Shame.