Thursday 25 February 2021

CREATION STORIES - Glasgow Film Festival review

Starring Ewen Bremner as Alan McGee, the head honcho of the 90's indie record label success Creation, this biopic follows McGee's life from his own childhood dreams of being a rock star to representing some of the biggest rock bands in the world in Primal Scream and Oasis. Told with the caveat that what we are about to see mostly happened, but that "some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty", Creation Stories covers McGee's story through a haze of excess and success, with drug addiction, rehab, and a flirtation with the politics of New Labour, all soundtracked by some classic hits from the era.

Based on McGee's 2013 memoirs of the same name, Creation Stories treads a well worn path of rock music biopics, starting with the younger Alan (played by Leo Flanagan) singing in his childhood bedroom with posters of Bowie, T-Rex and (ahem) Slade on his walls, before a move to London to find fame and fortune turned him into the cynical, jaded music exec he's best known as. Structured around series of interviews the older Alan (Bremner) gives to Suki Waterhouse's music reporter, Gemma, the film jumps into flashbacks to show Alan's earlier life in his native Scotland under the disapproving glare of his father (a fantastically gruff Richard Jobson). As formulaic as they are these earlier scenes are the most appealing portion of the film, in no small part due to Leo Flanagan as the enthusiastic younger incarnation of Alan. When the film does the clich├ęd biopic move of switching its lead character to the bigger name actor (wearing a series of unconvincing wigs) 20 minutes in, it's a tough ask to accept the mid-40s Bremner as someone 20 years younger. That's not to say that Bremner's not good in the role - in fact, he's great - and as the action moves along to the higher points of McGee's career (such as his discovery of Oasis through sheer dumb luck) he's arguably playing the role he was always destined to play.

With the script co-written by Trainspotting's Irvine Welsh, you'd hope Creation Stories would more effectively tap into that Cool Britannia era that McGee was a figurehead for and that director Nick Moran was himself no stranger to, having starred in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at the tail end of the decade. Sadly, it feels like a missed opportunity. As much as McGee enjoyed his celebrity (and fair enough, this is based on his memoirs), the vast majority of this film's audience will be wanting to know more about the musicians he's associated with, but the film moves along so quickly that the likes of Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain are on screen for mere seconds. Even when the much coveted appearance of the Gallagher brothers comes an hour in, they're ushered off screen and only appear again fleetingly, despite James McClelland's pretty decent approximation of Noel.

It would be near impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the high watermark of music industry biopics, Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People. Tony Wilson shares enough in common with McGee (both power hungry men in the right place at the right time, or as McGee would put it "situationists") that there's cross-over beyond their association with Manchester music acts. It's clear that 24HPP was used as a basic blueprint for this, but as highly regarded as that film is, music bios have done some interesting things with their presentation in the intervening two decades, beyond quick editing and a jukebox soundtrack, and the fantasy elements this film employs to show McGee slapping Maggie Thatcher's arse or watch Paul Kaye's record company sellout get buggered by a corporate bigwig. It's also difficult when a film like this ticks so many boxes in the music biography checklist (drugs, rehab, bad wigs), not to think of the Johnny Cash spoof, Walk Hard: A Dewey Cox Story, which only seems more and more spot on since its release.

Nearly buckling under the weight of its cameos, from the inoffensive but forgettable (Ed Byrne as Alistair Campbell), the surprisingly convincing (director Moran as Malcolm McLaren), the outright caricature-ish (James Payton as Tony Blair) and the utterly bizarre (Jason Isaacs as a foppish crack addict), it's a shame that the supporting cast aren't given more opportunity to shine, as there's some great turns there from the likes of Michael Socha as McGee's record company colleague 'Slaughter' Joe Foster. As it stands, the film rests solely on the shoulders of Bremner's performance, and he does succeed in inhabiting McGee, both physically and in attitude. The film plays with the notion that McGee is either a genius or a blagger, with his unwavering assertion that one day he'll have a band that's "bigger than U2". It's just a shame the film doesn't pay more attention to them when they do turn up.

In terms of evoking the anarchic spirit of the Britpop era, Creation Stories doesn't quite hit the mark with its formulaic and unsurprising story, but it's a great central performance from Bremner with a blinder of a soundtrack. It might have limited appeal outside of rock historians and Oasis enthusiasts - who may also be frustrated by the lack of focus on real rock and roll stars - but as to whether they'll like it... it's a definite maybe.



Glasgow Film Festival runs between 24th February and 7th March. All films are released at different times, whereafter they can be rented for three days at £9.99 each.

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