Sahan Jayasuriya
MFF13

“Big Star

The fantastic biopic looks at one of the most legendary cult bands in rock history, Memphis, Tennessee's Big Star.

By - Oct 5th, 2013 12:00 am
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“Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” screens this weekend at the Fox Bay Cinema. The film documents the short lived career but long standing legacy of Big Star, the legendary Memphis, Tenn. rock group.

There are two kinds of cult bands. There’s the bands who were ahead of their time, and then there’s the bands who for whatever reason go unnoticed. Plenty of cult bands were ahead of their time – The Velvet Underground, Television, even Die Kreuzen all obtained cult band status for their precocious insights. Of those that simply went unnoticed, few had as much potential as a little group from Memphis called Big Star.

Over 40 years after the release of their debut album, Big Star are finally beginning to get the attention they deserved in the first place. Among those contributing to their rediscovery is filmmaker Drew Di Nicola, and his brand-new film “Big Star : Nothing Can Hurt Me,” screens this weekend at Fox-Bay Cinema as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.

Big Star’s time was brief – the band was active for less than four years – but in that time they released three records that would become three of the most influential and critically acclaimed rock records of the decade. Poor promotion and distribution cursed the group, however. The releases were hard to find in stores and thus went undiscovered by radio and consumers alike. Shortly after the completion of their third album, the group disbanded, and would remain obscure for the remainder of the decade.

Big Star's debut, "#1 Record," didn't fulfill that promise at the time, but it's easily earned that level of acclaim in the decades since.

Big Star’s debut, “#1 Record,” didn’t fulfill that promise at the time, but it’s easily earned that level of acclaim in the decades since.

Slowly over the next ten years, interest in Big Star started to grow, primarily due to fans of the band starting bands of their own and gaining the acclaim Big Star had missed out on. The “college rock” boom of the late 80s, led by artists including The Replacements, Husker Du and the Pixies, owed a lot to the heartfelt lyrics and unique song craft of Big Star.

Nirvana’s 1992 breakthrough brought a new breed of bands to a level of success previously unheard of for “alternative” acts, and Big Star’s stature rose with their fortunes. Everyone from R.E.M. to Wilco sang the praises of the band, and by 1993, founding members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens were back in action, enlisting Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies for guitar and bass duties, respectively. The reformed group maintained a mild amount of activity for the next two decades, coming to a halt when Chilton unfortunately died of a heart attack in 2010. His death came just days prior to a South by Southwest Big Star show, which instead became a show paying tribute to him. Guest musicians sat in with the surviving Big Star members as they celebrated his life and legacy. Had everything ended at that point, the Big Star story would go down as one of the saddest in the history of rock n roll; the greatest band you never heard of.

Nothing Can Hurt Me is the first film to document the band, and in doing so, Big Star are given the treatment and respect they deserve, giving the viewer an inside look at their short but incredible lifespan. Partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Nothing Can Hurt Me takes an in depth look at the formation, brief career and untimely end of Big Star, with exclusive interviews, photos and studio footage. With only drummer Jody Stephens the only remaining original member (guitarist and vocalist Chris Bell was killed in an automobile accident in 1978 and bassist Andy Hummel passed away in 2010), the void left is appropriately filled by the bands responsible for keeping the Big Star legacy alive. Included are candid interviews with members of Cheap Trick, Teenage Fanclub, The Lemonheads and many others who admit with no hesitation that, if not for Big Star, they might not have become bands themselves.

This is no Some Kind of Monster, though, and (without giving away too many details) Nothing Can Hurt Me just may evoke some rather strong emotions from the viewer. It’s heartbreaking and honest, just like Big Star’s music. Whether you’re a long time devotee or new to the world of Big Star, this one is not to be missed, and much like the band, it’s too good to go unnoticed.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me screens Sunday at 8 p.m. at Fox-Bay Cinema, and again on Wednesday at the Downer Theater at 4:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.

Categories: Movies, Music, Rock

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