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Movie review: ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me’

Posted 5:52pm on Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013

PG-13 (drug references, brief strong language); 111 min.

The legend of the band Big Star was born in May 1973, when a promoter flew legions of young rock critics into Memphis for a “convention” that was essentially a stunt to get them to hear Big Star perform.

Big Star, a Memphis group built around former Box Tops singer and songwriter Alex Chilton ( The Letter), was a bit out of step with the music of its day, a power-pop quartet just a little ahead of its time.

With their jangly Byrds-inspired guitars and close harmonies, Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens were already earning glowing reviews, if not great record sales. But that May ’73 junket stunt cemented them in legend.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me explores that legend through interviews with surviving members of the group, vintage radio tapes of those who haven’t survived and scores of testimonials by those influenced by this band with the outsize impact on music to come. Robyn Hitchcock describes the band as like “a letter posted in 1971 that arrived in 1985.” Members of R.E.M., the Flaming Lips, the dB’s and Yo La Tengo marvel at Big Star’s sound and that it never lived up to its name, copped from a Memphis supermarket chain.

The Drew DeNicola/Olivia Mori film explains why. Producers, recording engineers, band members and others talk their certainty that “this thing was going to take off.” Botched distribution by Stax Records meant that the LPs never were in stores as the rave reviews came out. And with their reviews going to their heads, the group wasn’t touring and promoting itself in a way that would ensure success, eventually.

The music — on ample display here — only occasionally hints at what all the fuss was about. The filmmakers were plainly true believers. But it’s an overlong and often repetitious movie, dragging out a Behind the Music story arc to just shy of an unsustainable two-hour length.

Exclusive: The Texas Theatre, Dallas

— Roger Moore, McClatchy Tribune News Service

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