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Florida Film Fest review: BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME

April 4, 2013
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BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME

★★★

This necessary documentary tells a story through the speckled old photographs of “a reluctant rock band with an ironic name.” Most of the joy in Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me comes from nostalgic critics who helped Big Star to become a band known for their devotion to creating new sounds that put to shame today’s lazier laptop musicians. The film’s narrative is treated like a child torn between divorced parents – its time is divided between influential lead singer Alex Chilton and founding member Chris Bell, who left Big Star after the release of their first album. Chilton offers the film a quirky energy and allows it to focus on a wider selection of releases (and footage from the Cramps!), but it’s Bell’s comeback at the end of the film that will make you want to drive straight home and attentively listen to “You and Your Sister” on repeat.

The gear close-ups alone (especially of the Mellotron) will make the film worthwhile viewing for music nerds, but be prepared to die from envy when you hear about the access Big Star had to Memphis’ legendary Ardent Studios, which made their sonic adventuring possible. Plus, the Memphis footage is undeniably exciting to relive, especially the legitimate partying at T.G.I. Friday’s. Although the film is slow at times (often showing us the same photographs over and over), Chilton’s charm and his love-it-or-leave-it sound evolution make it a must-see for those impressed by sonic devoutness.

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  • El Goodo

    I saw the film last night, and it is far better than this off-target review implies. In fact, is is stunning. “The same photographs over and over”? I didn’t spot a single repeated image, except for Big Star’s album covers, of course. And in no way was the film’s “narrative treated like a child between divorced parents” Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. The film’s scope is far wider than that. The viewer witnesses the machinations of the music industry. We learn about the history of Ardent Studio, Ardent Records, and feel excitement build from the 50s and 60s Memphis music scene. We hear Big Star’s aesthetic in proper context of the “heavy” rock schlock that dominated mainstream music in 1972. Sparkling perspectives from participants in the Big Star story, whether as producer (Jim Dickinson) or photographer (Stephanie Chernikowski), give us a glimpse into small but significant scenes from Memphis to New York that were able to offer a flicker of hopeful light to a band like Big Star in its day, not to mention cheers from various rock critics (the Creem crew) and aspiring musicians (the Winston/Salem dB’s mafia). And there is humor, as well: When eyewitness critic and musician Pete Tomlinson testifies to his ongoing love of “Daisy Glaze” while *Radio City* spins in the background, it’s as if he’s a Spinal Tap member enchanted with “intertwining” melody lines–even though it’s obvious he’s no dummy from a hard rock band. For these reasons, and many more, I certainly did *not* find the film “slow at times” as Ashley Belanger did. Anyone who truly loves rock-and-roll music must see this picture.

  • Ashley Belanger

    It’s a subjective thing whether you’re captivated during the entirety of a film. The portion about Chris Bell turning to Christianity and some of the dialogues from family members who didn’t seem to fully get the musicians enough to understand them, to me, seemed to leaden parts of the film, but the parts you’ve called out specifically were wonderful, I agree, and I tried to summarize them in the brief space I had for the review. My main problem was that I saw this documentary very close to viewing AKA Doc Pomus, and the emotional qualities of that film for the viewers conveyed that rare magical feeling that really special documentaries are able to capture that, for me, was not as strong as the feeling I had after watching Big Star’s story, which admittedly, was one I was already familiar with. I’m sorry if my review seemed like a put-down, but I can assure you it was not meant that way. I also agree that anyone who truly loves rock-and-roll music must see this picture, as I stated in my opening line. It’s necessary viewing.