The outsider music provided by various genres and periods of time in Britain are often far superior to the genres they failed to shunt their weight into. When we look back on the history of music, we fail to recognise that those artists who find themselves appreciated now often struggled commercially, critically, and personally when making their finest works. Suede: The Insatiable Ones is one such example, a band that, in retrospect, outlined the outsider Britpop niche alongside Pulp. Brett Anderson and his 90s rock band Suede stormed through the charts, and this documentary looks to document their unprecedented rise, inevitable fall, and sudden comeback.
Director Mike Christie does all three justice, to varying degrees. Much of our time is spent on warring factions, the fractured chemistry between the original four-piece, the departure of Bernard Butler and the floundering luck the original members had over this period. Accomplished work that the band produced is shown to have been a far from easy time for both producers and bandmates. Tensions bubbling over are inevitable, but Christie manages to paint a broader picture of the recording studio and the seething resentments found between Butler and Anderson. It’s represented well with a plethora of archive footage that show the band in intimate, creative moments. The rest, though, is told in such fleeting detail. Anderson’s battle with addiction, the break-up of the band, and their inevitable reunion, are rattled through in record time and speed. It’s a film that feels too long at times, but too short when covering other topics.
As much as it’s great to learn about the ups and downs, it’s all very obvious. Even to someone like myself who hadn’t taken the time read up on the history of the band, it was clear just by listening to the music where the high points were. Focusing in on some rather strange oddities, the time Ricky Gervais briefly managed the band, and Richard Osmon’s relationship with brother and Suede bassist Mat Osman. They’re titbits of interest better suited to bonus features than narrative purpose, but they’re nice to see nonetheless. Feeling just as artsy as the band they look to document, Christie tries to re-invent the wheel somewhat with his approach to the documentary, loose categories that are inevitably lost to the spilling over of conflict.
Documentaries, especially from the Britpop period, feel they must capture the essence of the band within the stitches of their own work, rather than just letting the band do it for them. It happened with Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, and Supermarkets, but to a lesser extent. Suede are an incredible band, and the documentary doesn’t do them much justice. They crafted some of the greatest albums of the time, that cannot be denied. For me personally, Coming Up will always be a tremendous defining achievement, a jumped-up, outsider perspective on sex and drugs. It’s documented briefly, using all the pockets of memorable notes, unprecedented backstage footage and modern-day interviews with a mellowed band reflecting on the perils of the rock star lifestyle. It has all the tried and tested tropes of the genre, but none of them come together with any amazing beauty.