This documentary sets out to examine the phenomenon of Cool Britannia in the 1990s, when the UK began to wake up after nearly two decades of Tory government. At first it seems like a rather thin subject for a doc, basically chronicling the rise of Britpop bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp, but as the film progresses it digs beneath the surface and uncovers some intriguing things about British society in general. The film traces the emergence of Britpop in the American grunge scene. After Nirvana in 1991, groups like the Stone Roses, Massive Attack and Suede replied with a distinctly British version, which erupted in 1994 when both Blur and Oasis hit the big time (Pulp’s breakout was in 1995).
These were real bands, not manufactured, not in an American mould. And as the Tory government started to unravel, they became a symbol of hope for all things British. They were independent, fearless, speaking from the gut much like the punk bands of the 1970s. And it was suddenly cool to be British! Music, fashion (Ozwald Boateng), art (Damien Hirst), film (“Trainspotting”) and then in 1997 the New Labour election victory all signaled a bright new world. And then what?
Throughout the film, director John Dower uses subtle and clever editing to make profound statements without ever being pushy. Interviews with the principal figures are revealing and entertaining, especially the Gallaghers (Noel’s bravado and Liam’s hilarious stoner comments), while Damon Albarn seems strangely shattered and Jarvis Cocker almost eerily sorted.
The cinematography is excellent–grainy and lush at the same time, expertly edited together without narration. Music of course plays a very important role here, providing real life, passion and energy. Also important are historical video clips that document the upbeat atmosphere of these brief years … then the disillusion that followed. As Noel says at the end, “Now the choreographers have taken over the world.” And he’s not just talking about Simon Fuller and S Club.