Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DVD Review: BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME (2012)

BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME (2012) 

Region: 1 NTSC
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 111 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional English SDH, French and Spanish Subtitles
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Drew DeNicola
Big Star: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens,
Chris Bell and Andy Hummel
My introduction to the music of Big Star came in 1997 while tuned into Radio Limbo 103.3 FM - a pirate radio station here in Tucson, AZ late one night when across my speakers came the sublime slice of pop "September Gurls" which floated across the room and into my ears, it was love at first listen and the next day I bought both "#1 Record/Radio City" and Third/Sister Lovers" and never looked back, they're that kind of band, once they get their hooks into you your snagged, for life. 

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012) is a touching portrait of the power-pop rockers Big Star who emerged from Memphis music scene in the early 1970's following the break-up of The Box Tops when singer Alex Chilton met singer-songwriter-guitarist Chris Bell. The fated meeting soon spawned Big Star who were born in the belly of Ardent Studios as a recording project. Truly something magic happened during those early sessions and the result was a classic first album, the ironically titled '#1 Album'. Big Star created gorgeous pop songs with a unique guitar sound and tone, heart melting harmonies and poignant lyrics that were at once naive, cynical and seemed to divulge simple truths about love and life, a very honest album. 

While the album received critical acclaim it was a commercial failure. In a way it reminds me of the trajectory of The Velvet Underground who were never a commercial success but as legend has it everyone who heard VU started a band, Big Star definitely went onto influence a great number of bands including Elliot Smith, R.E.M. and The Replacements just to name but a few.

Alex Chilton
The doc tells the story of the studio magic, the tumultuous relationship of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell and their separation following the first albums commercial failure.  We follow their disparate paths following '#1 Record' as Chilton continues the band for two more albums while Bell attempted to secure a solo record deal. It's both inspiring and heart-breaking, particularly the story of Chris Bell, a seeker who dabbled in drugs in search of spirituality who passed on in 1978. Through the story we come to realize that Bell was sort of the soul of the band and when he and Chilton reunite on the Chris Bell solo single "I Am the Cosmos" years later the results are eerie and beautiful.  

We have a wealth of early pictures of the band, stories from the studio from the surviving band mates Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel, the Bell family, radio interview with Chilton, studio techs and producers, rare studio outtakes and vintage performance video of Big Star, Alex Chilton, The Cramps and Panther Burns, plus testimony from musicians (Stephen Drodz of the Flaming Lips, Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, Cheap Trick) and critics (Lester Bangs,  which attest to the profound influence of the music Big Star music and legacy. The film follows up to it's logical conclusion, the 1993 reunion of the band and subsequent touring on through to Chilton's 2010 death and the touching all-star tribute to the band's legacy at the South By Southwest. 

This is a documentary with a lot of re watch value, one of the best music docs of the past few years. It's right up there with the phenomenal A Band Called Death (2012) doc which tells the story of early 70's Detroit proto-punk rockers Death, which if you haven't seen it is streaming on Netflix as is the Big star doc. 


Chris Bell
DVD: Magnolia Picture's DVD presents the film in the original anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio and it looks solid. Sourced from varying images and interview segments, vintage photos and video clips, and press clippings the images, of varying quality, flow to comes through wonderfully with a nicely balanced English language Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Optional English SDH, Spanish and French language subtitles are provided. 

Onto the special features we have a mini treasure cnsisting of ten minutes of deleted scenes that center on the band's touring from '72-'74 plus two featurettes  focusing particularly on Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, the making-of the third album is quite interesting as are the New York years.  There's also a featurette of behind-the-scenes super 8mm, studio outtakes and commentary on the in-studio experience from Ardent Studios alum who were on hand for the '#1 Record' and "Radio City" sessions, it's great stuff and the audiophiles will be delighted as they talk about the unorthodox recording methods the band used to capture their specific sound and guitar tones in the studio, the science of the recordings, loved it. 


DVD Special Features: 
- Deleted Scenes (10:32) 
- Chris Bell (18:32) 
- Alex Chilton (24:08)
- Big Star in the Studio (15:13) 
- Trailer (2:22) 
- Magnolia Trailers: Good Ol' Freda (2:21), Black Fish (2:25), Prince Avalanche (2:20), A Hijacking (2:02) 

Verdict: A gorgeous documentary that fans of Big Star will adore and the story so captivating that I imagine the uninitiated will be drawn into the soulful pop music, and that's a wonderful thing. Big Star are a seminal band right up there with Velvet Underground, one of the unsung heroes of pop music in the 1970's and this doc is a truly moving document of a band that just got lost in the shuffle during their time but have since gained a cult following through the decades and it continues to grow. 4.5 Outta 5  

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