VOD film review: Creation Stories
Anton Bitel | On 20, Mar 2021
Director: Nick Moran
Cast: Ewen Bremner, Suki Waterhouse, Richard Jobson, Leo Flanagan
Watch Creation Stories online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW
Scotland. Irvine Welsh. Drugs. Ewen Bremner. The 90s. It is a combination that will inevitably have viewers thinking of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, and just possibly Paul McGuigan’s The Acid House – and its recombination in Creation Stories is no coincidence, even if this is more a musical biopic, like director Nick Moran’s previous Telstar: The Joe Meek Story.
Creation Stories chronicles the rise and fall of Alan McGee, who founded and ran the titular independent music label from 1988 until he closed it in 1999, introducing to the world such acts as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. Written by Dean Cavanagh and Welsh, the film depicts McGee (Bremner, and Leo Flanagan when he is younger) as “a ginger cunt from Glasgow”, loving only music and money, and on a path away from his strict father (Richard Jobson) to any rebellion that will have him. And just as the soundtrack of Trainspotting was fuelled by many of the mid-90s musical movements that McGee helped establish, Creation Stories comes with the same punkish energy, as well as casting a knowing sideways glance at a truly disgusting toilet (albeit in LA rather than Edinburgh) and including its protagonist’s frank, Renton-like admission about his destructive addictions: “Bottom line is, it was fun.” Meanwhile, trains keep playing a significant role, as McGee was employed for a time by British Rail and serially misses trains to or from Glasgow.
Presented as an informal interview given by a coked-up McGee to the up-and-coming journalist Jemma (Suki Waterhouse) in LA – and then another two meetings with her later in London when her career has taken off – Creation has a fractured, anecdotal structure that enables Moran to cover several decades of McGee’s life while skipping manically to all the wildest bits: the punk posturing, the serial flirtations with greatness, the rock-and-roll lifestyle, the crazed benders. In keeping with the punning title, McGee is endlessly interested in origins, and the source of his serendipitous power to be in the right place at the right time. “I’m talentless but I’m a situationist – I make things happen,” he tells Jemma, referring to the Crowleyan ‘alchemy’ that lets him see the gold in dirt (Aleister Crowley, played by Steven Berkoff, turns up in McGee’s bathroom hallucinations). Yet McGee’s ear for saleable music is not matched by a head for business, and his intoxicated, devil-may-care blundering through an industry that he is changing without ever quite understanding is part of what makes him such an endearing character – like Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum lost in London’s dives and Manchester’s clubland.
“Stick to making your little records – stay away from politics,” a radical feminist tells McGee at a house party. McGee might, as he exploits Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme, graphically fantasise about patting “this fucking witch’s” Prime Ministerial posterior, but he also admits in his narration that what we have just seen “never happened” – even as earlier he had corrected himself to suggest that we should “forget everything in that last voiceover”. McGee is both self-conscious and unreliable narrator, and Creation Stories keeps reminding us of the liberties that are being taken with this real man’s life. Decades later, McGee forgets the advice he was given and allows himself – and his fashionable Britpop brand – to be co-opted by New Labour in their (successful) bid for power. Mc Gee’s disillusionment with them comes fast – but in a sense everything that he does from the first is political, serving a countercultural drive towards recalcitrant independence and the hedonism that defined and dominated the decade. And so McGee’s misadventures in the music industry are a Creation myth of both where we have come from and what we have lost along the way, told with wit and brio to spare.
Creation Stories is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.
This review was originally published during the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.