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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Live Forever", the days of britpop

Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop

My teenage years were the britpop years. It was a very fun and exciting time even from the distance, Spain, because there was music on tv (quite a lot if you compare with the desert that is now tv in that regard) and Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp, etc, were also artists able/capable of topping the charts then. Something unthinkable now. Those were better times (thanks technology for the internet though, you have made tv completely useless for music, which is something good, considering how awful it is here in Spain). I will try to restrain my nostalgic impulses from now on, although nostalgia is an important factor on “Live Forever”, the documentary.

Live Forever” tries to analyse the “boom” of popular music in the UK on the middle 90s, and its importance/weight on the British cultural and political landscape. It bases part of its strength on the contributions of the artists themselves: Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Damon Albarn of Blur and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, with occasional interventions from Massive Attack’s 3D and Sleeper’s Louise Wener, among others (Damien Hirst, Ozwald Boateng, music journalists and members of the industry).

There’s a lot of fun in this “rockumentary” about this unusual period on the recent history of music. In particular, Noel and Liam are two fantastic comedians on their own, justifying watching the film with their opinions (Liam is hilarious). The film flows with rhythm despite the amount of interviews. But director John Dower is able to go much further than just the battle of Blur vs Oasis (Albarn’s reaction to the question speaks by itself) or the records. “Live Forever” aims to be a study of popular culture in the UK.

It almost achieves that ambitious goal. The renaissance of British music is clearly contextualised. Thatcher (always Thatcher) spent more than a decade to destroy the country, and, of course, that included the annihilation of culture. But after her, at the beginning of the 90s, the landscape changed, first slowly (Noel saying how bad was the electronic-house music on the clubs is amusing), with the landmark gig of The Stone Roses, but then accelerated, to the years of madness, from 1994 to 1997. A reaction against the conservative period, the Americanization of culture, and the reinvention of “everything Brit” to adapt it to the emerging momentum are well documented, resulting in a very engaging documentary.

It gets even better, when the bastard of Tony Blair appears and the so-called New Labour's tries (with significant success) to seek the alignment of britpop with them. When the term "Cool Britannia" appears. And when the consequences of the huge and sudden triumph arrive (the obvious presence of drugs, Jarvis comments about the struggle while making “This Is Hardcore”) before the inevitable, also sudden, fall of the movement, replaced (with cruelty) by Pop Idol and Robbie Williams. Its even more depressing if you consider that, 15 years after, we are still surrounded by the same kind of rubbish (I would add sadly multiplied).

Unfortunately, “Live Forever” is also a “hit & miss”. The film dates back from 2003, and many things seem outdated, or incomplete with the perspective of time. Think on Oasis' split, on Blur, Pulp, Suede and The Stone Roses reunions... Think on the current vindication of the 90s in music (in particular American indie, neglected on the documentary). Think on how awful, terrible is mainstream music nowadays, when during the 90s, britpop was the mainstream... That is not covered by the documentary.

But if that’s understandable, what it is hard to assume is the limited scope in what regards to bands. Sure, Oasis, Blur, Pulp were the leaders of the movement, but where are the rest? Just to name another big name, where’s Suede? Where are the precursors of the movement, in particular The Smiths/Morrissey? And the vast amount of groups that were also part of it, or jumped into the britpop bandwagon, with more or less fortune? And the ones who didn't want to be related with them (Radiohead, PJ Harvey)? Also, if “Trainspotting” was so referential, why there’s no interview with any of the people involved? I could keep going on and on... but I think you get the idea. Too many interesting things are presented, but very few are sufficiently explored, while others are ignored. It is one of the rare occasions when the length of the film is evidently not enough to "fulfil its promises".

“Live Forever” is a highly valuable documentary. It offers quite a lot in a quite engaging way, and benefits from the interviews of some of the fundamental artists of the music movement, that are revealing and/or very funny. But it falls short. Like being in front of an iceberg named brit pop, you know you are only seeing a relatively small part of the whole thing. Hoping for a bigger, bolder, better documentary covering that music period soon.

SCORE: 6,5/10

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