Movie review: ‘Big Star’ revives band’s luster

Jody Stephens (left), Andy Hummel (center) and Alex Chilton in "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me," a Magnolia Pictures release.
(William Eggleston / Eggleston Artistic Trust / Magnolia Pictures)

The documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” traces the origins and ripple effect of unsung Memphis power-pop band Big Star, an acclaimed early ‘70s outfit that struggled to get noticed in an era of burgeoning corporate rock and mega-acts. Though the members disbanded after three albums, their exuberant, gracefully melancholic sound eventually won them hard-core fans, and they’re now cited as an alt-rock/emo precursor. (REM, the Replacements and Flaming Lips, among others, point to their influence.)

Through the stories of individual band members — most notably artistically fragile frontmen Alex Chilton, a true musical magpie, and tortured soul Chris Bell, both now deceased — directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori tell a tale steeped in curiosity, difficult personalities and fragmented disintegration. That Chilton and Bell aren’t around anymore to weigh in — save the occasional snippet of an old radio interview with Chilton — even adds a little haunted mojo to the might-have-been story line.

There is some encomium overkill in the interviews with colleagues and critics, as if the filmmakers are routinely worried you won’t buy the band’s status in rock history. It stifles any real objectivity in this rock biography but, overall, it’s still a skillfully rendered narrative that should satisfy fans and pique the interest of the uninitiated.

— Robert Abele



“Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for drug references and brief strong language.

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.

Playing: At the NuArt, Los Angeles.