Movie Review – Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

24 Apr

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled music reviews in order to bring you something…a little different…A movie review.

Over the next few days, I will be reviewing three of the films I saw at the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival.  As mentioned in this blog post, I had the opportunity to attended the CIMM Fest this year, in lieu of Record Store Day.  It was the first film festival I have ever attended and it was an absolutely wonderful experience.  I can’t wait until this October, because I will definitely be going to the Chicago International Film Festival.

The first of the three reviews will be for the Big Star documentary: Nothing Can Hurt Me.  The other two will cover Last Shop Standing and My Father and the Man in Black.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is an incredibly misguided work of love, an ode to a band that has had more than their fair share of hard knocks.  If you are not familiar with the story of Big Star, in short, they were the band that never was.  Ask anyone who was there at the time, or who love them now and they’ll tell you: Big Star should have been in the pantheon of rock history’s greatest.  The legend, as it is, with The Velvet Underground was that only 1,000 people bought The Velvet Underground & Nico, but all 1,000 of them joined a band.  If that’s the case, than of the 10 copies of #1 Record that actually made distribution, all ten of those listeners not only started bands, but then the bands that heard them started bands and a net of great influence was born.  

So, let’s just get right down to it: The problem with Nothing Can Hurt Me is that it tried way too hard to cover ever single detail of the band and its members various careers, and instead of encompassing it all, major details fell by the wayside.  For starters, Big Star never hit it big because of distribution issues with their debut, #1 Record, but why did that happen?  The director never even offers an opinion.  At least with Radio City, Big Star’s second album, they explain in detail why the distribution of the album completely fell apart a second time.  As for third and final album, Third…did it even come out?  Who knows! The film talks about its production and then never finishes the story.

In the meanwhile, they were so busy chronicling what happened to band-founder Chris Bell after his departure in 1973, that they completely forget to ever mention Andy Hummell again in the documentary until briefly mentioning that he passed away 5 minutes before the film’s end.  It’s not that I don’t care what happened to Chris Bell, as it turned out, showing his story was a major narration plot, but the director took too long to weave everything together that by the time you finally see how the two stories connect (in brief: The departure of Chris Bell took with it the initial Big Star sound.  It lasted into the second album because he wrote many of those songs, but by the time the third album rolled around and it was all Alex Chilton, they sounded nothing like Big Star anymore.  Meanwhile, when Chris Bell’s solo material finally saw the light of day, everyone who heard it finally realized what exactly happened to Big Star) you’ve almost forgotten that Chris Bell was ever in Big Star to begin with.

Speaking of Alex Chilton, the most egregious part of the entire film may have been the villainous light they cast him in.  Alex Chilton was not like most people, and to suggest that he ever had the human capacity to hate having been in Big Star is probably not even close to the true feelings he contained.  Yes, his general fame was part of the reason Chris Bell left the band, but that’s not Chilton’s fault, Bell had issues.

With all of those negatives, however, I can’t not love this movie: So many moments of laughter, near tears and fond memories of a band I don’t even like very much.  The story is brilliant and one that needed to be told.  I hope desperately that this film finds a wider audience.  More people need to know about Big Star and the music they made.  Not a Bangles cover and not a TV show theme song.  It was a shame the filmmakers didn’t spend more time with bands like The Replacements and R.E.M. who basically owe their entire careers to this band.

Generally, as someone not super familiar with their career, I was a very confused viewer, however, the narration wasn’t disjointed enough that you couldn’t keep the basic plot, and seeing the movie in a packed crowd of obvious fan was a magical movie (and music) experience.

A very surprising 8/10

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