The music documentary about the cult American band finally gets a limited theatrical release in Britain
This weekend sees the limited British theatrical release of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a biopic documentary about Big Star, arguably the biggest cult artist in pop history.
Formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1971 by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel, Big Star were purveyors of strongly melodic guitar pop reminiscent of the Beatles, but their entire original existence seemed to be cursed. Their first two albums, #1 Record (1972) and Radio City (1974), were a commercial disaster despite receiving rave reviews, with Bell and Hummel departing the group before the second could be completed.
One more album, Third / Sister Lovers was recorded in 1974 before being deemed not commercially viable. While it eventually saw a release in 1978, the band broke up shortly after being snubbed by their record label Stax. But their legacy has grown steadily ever since, to the point that all three of their records featured in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They were a key influence on a great number of indie bands in the coming decades, such as R.E.M., The Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, Elliott Smith and Belle & Sebastian to name just a few.
Nothing Can Hurt Me was first shown at the South By Southwest festival back in March 2012 before getting a theatrical release in the States the following year. Reviews at the time were largely positive.
Rob Thomas of Madison Movie felt that the movie encapsulated the band’s career arc perfectly, saying “two emotions fight for dominance while watching the saga - the exhilaration that comes from seeing great artists working at the peak of their powers, and the frustration of watching the world ignore those great artists.” Because Big Star rarely toured, most of the footage on the documentary is from the studio, but it was there that the band's harmonic magic can truly be heard.
A few dissenting voices, while accepting the validity of the music and subject matter, criticised the structure of the documentary. David Lewis of the San Francisco Chronicle said that it would “no doubt… …please fans of the cult rock band, but the rest of us may feel like outsiders - not put off by the proceedings, really, but somewhat mystified as to what all the fuss is about.”
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is released on 1st August.