‘Liam Gallagher: As It Was’ film review – an intimate portrait of an enduring force of nature

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This comeback documentary is also, in some ways, a poison pen letter to Noel

“I know how great I am; I know how shit I am.” So says Liam Gallagher in this hagiographical documentary from long-time collaborator Charlie Lightening. They’ve been working together since the last gasp of Oasis; Lightening made music videos for Beady Eye, the trad rock band that Liam formed in the wake of the split. When the new group disbanded after a couple of albums, the frontman retreated. As his (other) brother Paul puts it: “I think that [Beady Eye] was the first time in his life it didn’t work.” If we learn anything from this documentary, it’s about Liam Gallagher’s relentless ambition.

The movie charts his massive comeback, mounted two years ago with ‘As You Were’, his first ever solo record, which went Platinum and led to the soon-to-be released follow-up, ‘Why Me? Why Not?’ Lightening’s footage spans the entire decade, so he’s in a unique position to dissect perhaps the greatest frontman in the world.

Talking heads include former Oasis guitarist Bonehead, though Liam appears only through live footage and Lightening’s on location reportage. This is an intimate portrait, but it’s also very clearly an authorised biography timed to promote the new album. It’s as crowd-pleasing as a live set stuffed with Oasis bangers. We see Liam make his triumphant return at Manchester’s 1500-capacity Ritz in summer 2017; bump into some lads en route to a gig and hook them up with tickets; and pay moving tribute to Manchester Attack victims at the city’s ensuing benefit concert, One Love.

There’s plenty of live footage for Oasis fanatics, while backstage access reveals an artist whose personality and onstage persona appear to one and the same. At times this can be startling and sad. When, at the launch for his fashion label Pretty Green, in the wake of Oasis’ split, a journalist asks who the real Liam Gallagher is, he replies: “Fuck knows who I am.”

It’s moving, too, when he visits Peggy, his and Noel’s mother, who still lives in their childhood home in Burnage, Manchester. It’s the kind of intimate access only Lightening could have secured, and an effective narrative technique: you look at those small single beds in the room that Liam and Noel shared, and think of the distance they travelled in their lives, and feel a sense of vertigo on their behalves.

But these scenes also blur reality, as when Peggy tells Liam about how proud she was the first time she saw her rock star sons on telly, 25 years ago. You think: have they never had this conversation before? Lightening nudged his subjects in certain directions, and sometimes it feels as though you’re watching a reality show called The Gallaghers, but it also proves canny when Liam, looking around that old bedroom, alludes to the possibility of an Oasis reunion.

Which brings us to him and Noel. A celebration of Liam’s comeback, ‘As It Was’ is also a poison pen letter to his estranged brother. At one point, when he bumps into Brian May backstage, who comments that Liam’s looking well, he replies: “Not knocking about with me brother too much – it’s taken years off me.” He is clearly still bitter in the extreme about Oasis’ implosion. “It was Oasis ‘til the day I die,” he says, and insists he hasn’t seen Noel in the last 10 years. Is this whole comeback about revenge? The film doesn’t entirely answer that question, though you can listen to Liam gloat, “Noel Gallagher won’t be too happy with how it’s going for me… I don’t need that fucker,” and draw your own conclusions.

Deliciously, the documentary builds to last year’s NME Awards in London, where Liam was finally crowned Godlike Genius (his response: “I’ve always thought I was Godlike. From the day I was fucking born – and your award ain’t gonna change it”). By the end of the film, you’re left with the impression of a force of nature: compelling, unstoppable and inclined to take everything in its path along for the ride.

This is a film made for Liam Gallagher fans. If that’s you, you’ll be rewarded with snippets of new material (a weepie called ‘Once’); revealing scenes of him hanging with his kids, Gene, Lennon and Molly; and an overarching sense of a figure who has remained relevant in popular culture (much is made of Liam’s enduring appeal to a young fanbase) across three decades. It’s filled with classic Gallagher-isms – he must say “D’you know what I mean?” a hundred times – and, fabulously, Bonehead appears so often as a talking head that he basically becomes the narrator to Liam’s life. Definitely maybe see it.