Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Ironically, Big Star, a short-lived Memphis rock band from the 1970s, never quite lived up to their name. Plagued by a series of professional and personal problems, the band enjoyed just a small cult following despite big dreams. Writer Drew DeNicola sets out to tell the story and keep Big Star’s flame burning in this tribute music documentary.
The film opens with accolades from Mike Mills and Matthew Sweet who make it clear that there could be no mistaking the band’s talent: Sweet assuredly describes Big Star’s first records as being “masterpieces”.
Yet, despite great reviews for their first album, public interest in their music never really took off. Antagonised by issues with distribution, the band struggled to get its records in to the public domain. “We were all very frustrated. Picking up Rolling Stone Magazine and it says this is the greatest stuff we’ve ever heard yet nobody’s buying it” says John Fry, founder of Ardent Studios, while REM confirms that “theirs was some of the best records made in that decade but they just never got heard.”
In fact, we learn that it was not until after Big Star broke up that groups such as REM, the Replacements and This Mortal Coil spread word of the band’s music, promoting the wider recognition the band had so desperately desired.
DeNicola’s documentary is set out in a conventional fashion, incorporating reportage and still photographs in 3D-style montages. Although the band’s story is well-told and interesting, there is nothing unusual or spectacular about the way in which the narrative is expressed, and it is considerably lacking in live performances. However, DeNicola was hindered by the lack of footage, as Big Star were always known as a studio group rather than a touring band. Also missing are crucial interviews, notably with the band’s leader Alex Chilton and founder Chris Bell. Again, DeNicola was always going to struggle with this as Chilton despised talking about his past and eventually died while the film was in production.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is not as odd a title as one would first opine for a band that was together for a mere four years and struggled to reach commercial success. DeNicola reminds us that the legacy of its three groundbreaking albums has influenced artists as diverse as REM, the Bangles and Garbage. It’s a warm, revealing documentary and testament to brilliant musicians. And if you haven’t heard of Big Star before, you will certainly appreciate the band’s talent and influence, no matter how short their existence.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me was released on 1st August 2014
Watch the trailer for Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me here: