I was bummed that I missed this at South By Southwest this year, although it wasn't finished at the time. I've loved Big Star for years and yet they are one of those bands that many people aren't aware of. But in their way, they were the American Beatles, with a pop sensibility straight out of their wheelhouse. Alex Chilton wrote some amazing music, and sadly he's no longer with us.
But if you've never heard their music, you might be surprised to find out you have but you just didn't know it. Here's Reni, longtime friend of the site and guru of all things music (especially the Stone Roses, don't get him started) with a look at the new documentary, BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME:
‘What can a lonely rock n’ roller do..?’
Filmmakers Drew DeNicola, Danielle McCarthy and Olivia Mori screened their documentary ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me’ at the London Film Festival this weekend and fans of the legendary Memphis rock band won’t be disappointed.
‘Nothing Can Hurt Me’ starts with ‘The Rock Writers Convention’ in 1973. Legendary critics Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye and Jaan Uhelszki are gathered to watch Big Star. It’s a defining moment for the band, and if they hadn’t played, we might not have heard of them.
The success encouraged Big Star to make ‘Radio City’ (a third album came out in 1978.) Not much happened after that. Why weren’t they famous? Alex Chilton isn’t around to offer his perspective but the film answers the central question without him – Big Star was a ‘studio experiment’ that couldn’t/wouldn’t pay its dues on the road.
The film looks at Memphis music in the early seventies and its larger than life characters. There’s a lot of hell-raising which clearly affected ‘Third’ – Big Star’s fractured masterpiece. Thereis a surprising amount of footage, too, which is skilfully edited; including home video of Big Star and video footage taken from Bill Eggleston’s ‘Stranded in Canton’.
It also documents the life of Chris Bell – Big Star’s co-founder. Bell quit after ‘No 1 Record’ and tried to commit suicide. In the mid-seventies, he left for England and recorded several demos (‘I Am The Cosmos’ is a high point.) Bell was a great songwriter and the film argues that he is responsible for Big Star’s sound. He died later in a car wreck and his death gives the film real emotional weight.
The sound mix deserves special mention. Director DeNicola worked with John Fry and Adam Hill to create new mixes of songs including ‘The Ballad of El Goodo’, ‘O My Soul’ and ‘Big Black Car’ and it sounds incredible.
‘Nothing Can Hurt Me’ also has great supporting characters and DeNicola is happy to hear their tangential anecdotes – like when John King, Big Star’s very own Artie Fufkin, interrupts his interview to talk about Sinead O’Connor; or how Jim Dickinson turned Otis Redding’s piano (used for ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’) into garden furniture.
Sadly, several participants passed away during the making of the film including Dickinson, Chilton, Andy Hummel and Carol Manning - ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me’ is a feisty, moving tribute to them all.
Thanks, Reni. Hope to see you in December!