Published on March 27th, 2021 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Creation Stories (2021)
Creation Stories (2021) is the audacious story of how a scrawny kid from Glasgow founded the biggest independent music label in history. The roster of bands signed to Creation is so ridiculous you immediately want it fact-checked. Once Oasis came on board, commercial success quickly matched the critical success of the previous years. Both eras were gargantuan and legitimately changed British culture in ways not seen since the 1960s.
*(I made you a little playlist with some of my favourite Creation bands).*
The film starts with a disclaimer: “Most of this happened. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty”. It begins on a luxury airline with the predictable flash-back I always knew I didn’t fit in… then back to landing in L.A., then back to Glasgow and London and back to L.A. Alan McGee arrives for an interview that allows the movie to anchor itself in one place (for a bit) so flash-backs may commence again without leaving the viewer overly disoriented. The requisite check-points of all docufilms are present, including the nasty prick of a father and the obligatory slow-down to bereave a suddenly lost loved one.
It’s a little hard to follow (not the camera work, that aspect is a little mundane) and I already know the story their trying to tell. I know most of the characters and history because I’ve been buying these records since I was a teenager. But still, they manage to blow past names like a cocaine hurricane of blabbermouth storytelling and I found myself double checking things on the internet to make sure I was following correctly.
Having said all that, I prefer fast moving and slightly incomprehensible to slow moving and soggy with sentimental rubbish. Studios can dress it up and drag it out like the polished bi-ops such as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), but I’ll take this lesser produced and cinematically inferior story telling any day. The problem is that it shouldn’t have to be either/or.
Creation Stories feels smaller than it should. For such a grandiose spectacle, it comes across more like Dollarama than Amazon. The director, Nick Moran, has spent plenty of time in front of the camera [Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 1&2 (2010, 2011)] but very little time behind the lens, and it shows. This era of music changed youth culture fast and could have been crafted into a compelling, detailed mini-series because more time was needed to flush out the minutia of details. For example, one minute they’re talking about running the record company on just 200 quid per week (McGee and four friends were pooling their 40 quid/week of government subsidy money) and a minute later My Bloody Valentine has them half a million pounds in the red! The result of that financial car wreck was Loveless (1991), an album that never made its money back, but is still hailed as one of the most sonically influential albums of all time. Um, can we slow down to expand on that? No? Moving on? Okay…I guess.
Aside from the inexperienced director, the other key contributors to this project are familiar heroes to the 90s UK landscape. Alan McGee is played by Ewen Bremner who most people will recognize as Spud from Trainspotting (1996),or as Charlie from Wonder Woman (2017). Scottish author Irvine Welsh contributed to the script and Danny Boyle offered support as an executive producer. Still, results are only okay, and is that enough to entice an audience? No. But, wait. Something I once heard Harrison Ford say comes to mind, “It’s not the party, it’s what you’re celebrating”. Hold on a tick – Dr. Jones has a point.
The cinematic results of Creation Stories may fall short – and mostly due to lack of budget – but the content, the guts, the accomplishments of McGee and his little band of merry men are worth hoisting above our heads in reverence. The celebration is that McGee effectively stuck it to corporate rock for what was probably the last time in history. While they were all out attempting to assemble the next boy band to milk, McGee was in the clubs, discovering the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Oasis. Big label machinery was cumbersome and slow. As McGee explains, “They notice a scene rising up and an A & R arsehole has to take it to an executive arsehole, who’s got to take it to the chairman arsehole. And if they agree, they take it to the lawyer arsehole, and when that’s done they all go to the marketing arseholes, and when everyones’ got their fingers out of each other’s arseholes, they might sign the band. And by then, everybody missed the fucking boat. With Creation it was just me, and I’m at the scene! I had first choice. I had the artist signed, recorded, pressed, and spinning in clubs before Corporate could even open a bottle of chardonnay.”
Creation Records ran on the power of belief, drugs, alcohol and chaos. There was a lot of pure luck involved, personified by the discovery of Oasis, but McGee admits as much. Most people at his level of success want you to believe they got that way by working harder than everyone else, and anyone with less doesn’t work as hard as they do. Poppycock! I really respect the term, used repeatedly, “accidental alchemists”. McGee knows it’s magic and doesn’t fuss about why he’s the conduit for these god-like contributions to rock n roll. He just is.
Creation Stories tries hard. They splash the screen with an orgy of reverence to their success from time to time, but it’s not flatulence. The records they brag of and hold in such high regard are praise worthy and magnificent. As an independent, Creation Records was responsible for bringing us a disproportionate amount of the greatest bands of the 80s and 90s.
Maybe the movie is about believing in yourself, choosing your own path, being a rebel against the system. That’s fine but, if that’s the story, it’s been told better. The attempts to deliver a moral, message or parable is just the frame for the true picture: rock n roll in Britain during the 1990s – the last great decade of music culture before it all got run through a big, gross machine that watered down our cocktails like a crappy little dive trying to look posh while scorching the punters on drink prices. The value of this movie is that it serves as a treasure map to a plunder of swag for people who want to reinvigorate their memories of the last great decade of music, or for those who know nothing of these exploits and wish to feed their knowledge of rock n roll history. The music is the cigar, the movie is just the match to light it.