Film Review: Charming Biopic ‘Creation Stories’ Spotlights The Man Behind Music’s Greatest Acts5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Alan McGee’s role in shaping British musical culture over the past thirty years is hard to overstate. As the founder of Creation Records, he brought us the bands that defined an era. The true story of a man from a relatively impoverished upbringing, who, against all odds built a record label from nothing.
Director: Nick Moran
Cast: Ewen Bremner, Suki Waterhouse, Jason Flemyng, Thomas Turgoose, Michael Socha, Mel Raido, Jason Issacs
Runtime: 110 minutes
Armed with a little more than a bottomless love for music, Alan McGee started independent record label Creation Records in the 1980s and, with his signings, forever changed the landscape and soundscape of British indie music (and arguably, by extension, shaped Singapore indie music’s heyday in the 1990s). For signing and launching Oasis into the stratosphere, McGee is also responsible for subjecting generations of young women to the agony of boys with guitars trying to serenade them with “Wonderwall”.
Of all the wild things that could happen in the pandemic era, learning that there is a biopic about him in theatres is frankly one of the more surprising news to emerge in recent months. Such a film would undoubtedly face an uphill climb appeal wise. McGee occupies a peculiar place in history — revered by music fandom but has stories and accomplishments that might not resonate with anyone beyond even if they are familiar with the music.
Creation Stories is well aware of this challenge, looking to appeal to the unconverted while packing in enough references and nudges to push music geeks to do their best awkward impressions of that Leonardo DiCaprio meme. Based on a memoir of the same name, the film offers an engaging account of McGee’s life and all the wild debauchery on his way to the top. Yet beneath all the drugs and alcohol, there is also a surprisingly wholesome and inspirational story with plenty of emotional high points. Creation Stories is a refreshing dose of chaotic energy, distilled straight from the manic story of one of music’s few true trailblazing mavericks.
Anchoring the film is Ewen Bremner’s frenzied leading performance, bringing a constant sense that McGee is only one silent pause or one moment of inaction away from bursting in flames. It seems nothing can stop Alan Mcgee from reaching the top of the mountain — not even in a biopic about him.
This frantic energy is met by the film’s pacing, smashing fast-forward on practically most of McGee and Creation Records’ milestones. While this does lead to a lot of ground being covered, it also downplays the weight of the moments, especially for audiences less familiar.
Indie darlings Teenage Fanclub and The Jesus and Mary Chain making it big, or My Bloody Valentine putting out a genre-defining album and (allegedly) bankrupting Creation Records in the process — the film rarely spends more than a few minutes to capture and share why what it depicts are significant and, instead, affords more time revelling in the established superstardom of Oasis.
It’s one of the few indications that the biopic definitely has wide-audience appeal in mind — which should never be a mark against any film. However, in Creation Stories’ case, this seemingly also comes at the cost of blunting the uglier sides. It’s not helped that a lot of what the film details are disputed or are skewed accounts in favour of McGee. At worst, the film’s monologues feel like efforts to reframe McGee’s ill-minded choices and soften long-standing criticisms.
Drugs, alcohol and general madness are presented through a warped lens similar to the drug-fueled visual nightmares in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — but are wrangled in before things get too out of hand. There is an edge in Creation Stories but it often feels watered down in favour of upholding its concise yet linear structure. It’s a story about rebellion with a deficit of visual, aural, and stylistic noise.
The film is at its best whenever it is unrestrained, particularly while echoing the energy behind McGee and his team. They never had a concrete plan, motivated only by a goal to be ‘bigger than U2’. Creation Stories heartily draws from this font, especially while depicting their early years. Much appreciated is how this energy eventually matures — but never waning — as the team ages in the film. It leads to an emotionally fleshed out cast, paying off most prominently with McGee’s character arc.
Bremner is superb in charting McGee’s growing maturity while retaining all the lightning-in-a-bottle energy from his character’s youth. Creation Stories is fantastic at pulling heartstrings, with Bremner being more than capable of delivering the gut punches. Look out for a stand-out scene near the film’s end where McGee comes face to face with the meteoric rise and eventual collapse of Creation Records, viewing it not as a tragedy as much as a celebration of how a team of rebels — against all odds — forever changed British music.
Creation Stories’ mileage can be crudely summed up by: “The film concludes with a montage set to ‘Wonderwall’”. Music fans will get a kick out of the bands and the music featured but might leave wanting more attention on the pre-Oasis era (Oasis tends to be a punching bag amongst the snobbish). Still, through a strong source material and a notable leading performance, the film succeeds in detailing an unorthodox yet inspirational, feel-good story celebrating the man behind some of the world’s biggest hits — blasting both from the underground and from the biggest stages imaginable.
Creation Stories opens tomorrow in theatres islandwide.