Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 24 January 2005
Source First Look Pictures DVD
For a brief, shining moment in the 1990s, pop music became alive again, with talented, innovative bands seizing control of the airwaves, giving voice to a growing movement of discontent against a conservative government. Sound familiar? Probably not if you lived outside of Britain, and even then, it may not entirely ring a bell. Written and directed by John Dower, Live Forever is a documentary less interested in chronicling a moment in time than it is carving one into the annals of pop history. Still, behind all the bluster about there being a change in the air is an entertaining look at three of the era’s biggest bands: Blur, Oasis, and Pulp.
Throughout the course of the film, Dower attempts to link the success of the bands to larger cultural movements in Britain, namely the landslide victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour in the 1997 election. While this initially seems like a fascinating approach, the documentary ultimately winds up being too limited in scope to address it fully. Trainspotting, lad culture, and the London fashion and art scene (with emphasis on the artist Damien Hirst, who is also interviewed) are all given brief nods, but Live Forever is most at home when paying tribute to the music of the era.
Unfortunately, even then its focus is a bit narrow; anyone coming into Live Forever without prior knowledge of British music in the 1990s can be forgiven for assuming that Blur, Oasis, and Pulp were the only bands on the scene. Hugely influential (and popular) bands such as Radiohead, The Stone Roses, Suede, Elastica, and Massive Attack are awarded fleeting glimpses throughout the documentary, but Dower spends most of his time and energy rehashing the bitter chart wars between Blur and Oasis and the spiraling drug use of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and Oasis’ Gallagher brothers.
Although a broader assessment of Britain’s cultural currents during the decade would have made for a more enduring documentary, taken at face value, Live Forever contains enough witty and engaging moments to justify its existence. Fans of Britpop will undoubtedly enjoy the off-color commentary provided by the Gallagher brothers, who are interviewed separately, presumably due to residual tensions between them. While Noel Gallagher (Oasis’ songwriter and lead guitarist) betrays a raucous wit, his brother Liam (the band’s lead singer) wears a befuddled look as he spews out expletives and rambles on about John Lennon (though the rock legends he more strongly calls to mind are from a different band: Spinal Tap).
Blur’s Damon Albarn is more reflective, but he visibly stiffens and grows silent when asked about his feud with Oasis. In addressing this rivalry, Dower touches upon class, an underlying issue in the film (and in British culture at large). Throughout the documentary, exterior shots of the drab working-class cities that Oasis and Pulp yield from are interspersed with interviews from band members talking about the dire economic circumstances of their childhood. Albarn, on the other hand, spent his formative years in the suburbs, which are displayed in all their mind-numbing, conformist glory (which his music very much railed against). Nevertheless, Blur’s reputation as a band of “nice middle-class boys from the South” initially made them favorites of the music press, who found Oasis’ in-your-face attitude distasteful. Also addressed is Pulp’s “Common People,” a hit single that tackled this touchy issue.
In the end, Live Forever does not succeed in its goal to encapsulate a pivotal moment in British cultural history. It does, however, make for an interesting footnote, and at 86 minutes, is an enjoyable primer on three of Britpop’s most vital bands.