Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012) Poster

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7/10
The Space between the Notes
ferguson-64 August 2013
Greetings again from the darkness. The best filmmakers can be described as visual storytellers. However, what can we expect from a film if the story has no real climax or even a definitive ending? Well if the story is early 70's band Big Star and if the filmmakers are co-directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori, and Producer Danielle McCarthy, the answer is an incredibly interesting and enthralling tale of how sometimes the universe just doesn't line up the way it should.

Mythical stories involve such things as unicorns and the lost city of Atlantis. It's tempting, though incorrect, to label Big Star as the mythical great band of the 1970's. In fact, they were all too real. For the past 40 years, their influence has worked its way through the musical world and is obvious in the works of such bands as R.E.M. and The Replacements ... just as the influence of The Beatles, The Byrds, The Kinks and more can be heard in the songs of Big Star. The mystery and confounding question is why did the beautiful music of Big Star never "make it" to the big time like those others?

This documentary is a technical and structural and visual and auditory marvel. It captures and holds our attention just like any other well made historical drama would. A doc on The Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen would revel in the big time success achieved or the legendary live performances or recording sessions. Instead, with Big Star, we get a much more personal look at the creative genius of its two leaders: Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. They are described as flashing comets passing in the sky. Their all too brief time together produced something special that, still to this day, deserves to be heard. Their tragic personal stories need to be told. This film does both things very well. A large part of the Big Star catalog is heard throughout, and the abundance of meaningful interviews paints a clear picture of the band and its members.

One would be challenged to name any artist or creative endeavor that has been more critically acclaimed, yet commercially unsuccessful as Big Star. It absolutely makes no sense ... except for the cursory explanation given to the record labels: Ardent Records and Stax Records, and their ultimate failure in gaining retail distribution and radio airtime. Could it really be as simple as horrendous business execution? At this point, none of it really matters. The real interest ... the real story ... is the personal insight provided by lone surviving band member Jody Stephens, record producers John Fry (Ardent founder) and Jim Dickinson, and of course, the brother and sister of Chris Bell.

If you are asking yourself why you have never heard any music by a band that occupies 3 slots in Roling Stones' 500 Greatest Albums of all time, I encourage you to seek out the songs ... or pay attention the next time you are watching the opening of "That 70's Show". Yes, that is Cheap Trick doing a cover of a Big Star song. There is much to be gained from seeing this documentary and discovering Big Star ... even all these years later.
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10/10
Must-watch for Big Star fans
juliofantastico4 July 2013
Big Star fans will undoubtedly eat this up, and those unfamiliar with the band absolutely should watch it as well. Lots of fantastic interviews with people who were heavily involved with the production of their records, and I am also grateful for a healthy dose of information on Chris Bell (which seems incredibly hard to come by, even in this age). After watching the film I had a hard time figuring out if this film preaches to the converted, or actually makes an attempt to introduce the uninitiated to this incredible band. I thought I knew quite about the band prior to watching this, but after watching this I realize how little I really knew.
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5/10
A Nice Tribute
rcharan12 July 2013
Though never a huge Big Star fan, I liked their music enough and was curious enough about their story to order this movie On Demand. Not much to say except that it is a pretty typical rock doc: all the bases are covered, from their formation and rise, acclaimed but unprofitable albums, tough music industry breaks, eventual demise, and phoenix like rebirth after being rediscovered by a new generation of musicians and fans. The film drags in some spots mainly due to the sheer number of people interviewed, many of whom may have been integral to behind the scenes dealings, but really don't add a whole lot of insight to the band's personal story (though Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel are interviewed, the fact that Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, Big Star's creative heart and soul, are long gone, definitely hurts). Still, though artistically unremarkable, it is obvious this was a heartfelt, loving project to create. For all the film's shortcomings, you have to respect that.

The most touching scene: Mitch Easter's recollection of meeting his idol Chris Bell at the restaurant he was reduced to working at after leaving the band. You can't help but imagine what a humbling moment it must have been for such a talented artist.
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10/10
Clear as a Bell
cebelina9 January 2014
Lovely, poignant and beautiful the story of Big Star is fraught with the inescapable trappings of life that both manage to bind and also free us. There is already a wonderful review by David Ferguson. His review sums up much of what you'd actually expect to find on the liner notes of a DVD compilation release of this movie. And he's spot on. My review won't add or be any better. In the end my review will only add a bit of the haunting beauty and power that was Big Star and that lingers with us. A black diamond glimpse into the souls of not only Big Star but each and every one of us. A cautionary song/tale that sums up much of what I think the movie offers: "Take care not to hurt yourself Beware of the need for help You might need too much And people are such Take care, please, take care Some people read idea books And some people have pretty looks But if your eyes are wide And all words aside Take care, please, take care. This sounds a bit like goodbye In a way it is I guess. As I leave your side. I've taken the air. Take care, please, take care. Take care, please, take care." Wm Alexander Chilton
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6/10
A Pinpoint in Time
marylois-788-9103046 July 2014
I went into the theater expecting a rock-n-roll documentary about a group I'd never heard of. I agree with many of the reviewers here that the film starts slowly and appears to want to convince me that this extraordinary ensemble just didn't get the break they needed. The point was pounded home time and again but, not being an big fan of rock-n-roll I felt the need of more evidence, until the story began to break about the individuals in the band and the emotional content of their work together and their lives. It was as if they all--with the exception of Chris Bell--assumed they'd get what they deserved, and too bad if that was less than it might be. Here is where the story begins to become intriguing, but the payoff is not complete.

I am the same age as the Beatles, roughly, and bought their albums and the mythology that went along with them. I admit I didn't know much more about rock-n-roll than that. If you'd ask me what the band who produced "The Letter" was I would probably have said The Monkees. In fact, the lead singer on that number was Alex Chilton, who became the central member of Big Star.

In the q-and-a after the showing of BIG STAR, the director revealed that much of the angst endured by Chris Bell had to do with homosexuality, and there is an area of silence around this facet his life when you are interviewing his family and remaining friends. The nugget of information would be crucial to the narrative of the band and explain to a degree why the film didn't fully work for me. I could tell Bell was difficult, tormented, and probably a genius--but what his demons were, and what his relationship with Chilton was, was not even hinted at. He seemed petulant and jealous that Chilton became the star of the group, but the level of disillusion, betrayal and pain didn't seem to come from anywhere.

The film made me think; it informed me of much I didn't know about the Memphis scene and rock-n-roll in the 70s, when I was off into folk and then into old-time pop music and jazz. I parted company with the mainstream but not to the degree Big Time did. Nevertheless it is interesting to learn about their path. Now that I know there is a great deal more to their story, I would love to hear that as well.
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6/10
faded past
SnoopyStyle26 May 2019
This is a documentary about a 70's Memphis band. They have good critical support but never gains popular support. They struggle with the business and Big Star eventually fades into oblivion only to become a cult band which nobody has ever heard of and only the coolest music geeks can lay claim to. I myself don't know the band. I have never heard of their music. The only familiar song is 'In the Street' which was remade into the theme of 'That 70's Show'. I see some of their interesting famous fans. It would nice to showcase them earlier in the doc giving them needed praises. That's the normal practice to hype up the band. By putting it in the back, the intensity isn't there. If these famous artists love them, then I'm more motivated to know them. About their music, they sound good but none of it is that catchy. They sound professional. They sound sincere. They sound artful. There is an indie sensibility that would become more popular today. My biggest issue with the documentary format is that I couldn't tell who was from the band. None of them have great charisma in the present day. The two important voices in the band are no longer with us. It's tough to get a hold of their personalities when most of it is told in second-hand. It's the difference between a faded photograph and being in the same room. It has some fascinating behind-the-scene aspects. It would probably make for a great biopic movie where actors can give these people great personalities. The old footage can only give glimpses of the old days. It's told in a manner of faded memories. It's artistic but it's never visceral. It's sad but it's not enthralling. This is a good band who never reached the mountain top. There's a good story somewhere here.
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6/10
Colourful documentary about a rock band that, while critically acclaimed, seemed destined to sink without trace... and then gradually became a classic
crculver31 December 2016
BIG STAR: Nothing Can Hurt Me is a 2012 documentary about the eponymous 1970s pop-rock band from Memphis that saw few sales in spite of enormous critical acclaim, but went on to become a cult phenomenon and inspire some great bands in the decades that followed. The documentary was made without the participation of Big Star's surly frontman Alex Chilton (and it was completed following Chilton's untimely death), but it does feature interviews with bassist Andy Hummel, drummer Jody Stephens, and the musicians brought on when Chilton announced a new Big Star in the 1990s. Furthermore, producer John Fry appears throughout the documentary and appears to have had a bigger role in the Big Star story than many listeners might have imagined.

The film begins with the Memphis context of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Chilton, who had already had a chart hit with the band The Box Top and toured the country, comes home and starts a new band with Chris Bell. The process of recording Big Star's first album "#1 Record" is explained in some depth, from how the band used the available studio resources to where the iconic cover art came from.

We learn how Bell splits after the first album, has a nervous breakdown and flirts with evangelical Christianity, tries to make it as a musician in England and cuts the legendary single "You and Your Sister/I am the Cosmos", and finally dies in 1978 of a car crash at only 27 years old. There are poignant interviews with Bell's older brother and sister-in-law, but part of Bell's angst was his homosexuality, and everyone is uncomfortable even approaching this subject.

The documentary continues through the recording of Big Star's second ("Radio City") and third ("Third/Sister Lovers") records, followed by the ultimate breakdown of relations between Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton and the end of Big Star. There's some brief coverage of Chilton's solo career through the 1980s and the reformed Big Star in the 1990s and early millennium. There are some brief comments from later, perhaps more famous musicians that express an eternal debt to Big Star, like Teenage Fanclub and Mike Mills of R.E.M.

This is one of those documentaries that, to a degree, expects viewers to already know quite a bit about the band in question, making it somewhat frustrating for those who know Big Star's name and legacy but not so much the band's career and arc. It is mentioned that #1 Record sold poorly through label problems, but it's as if the viewer is already supposed to know that it was poorly distributed. It is mentioned briefly that Chris Bell died in a car crash, but with little detail. And there are some aspects of the production that seem mystery. For example, why does Jody Stephens have such a bad attitude throughout his interviews? Still, I enjoyed BIG STAR: Nothing Can Hurt Me overall. So many rock documentaries interview people who exploded into stardom, moved to la-la-land like California and seem to live on another planet compared to non-celebrities. Here, on the other hand, it's amazing just what ordinary southern Americans these people are, who clearly have some good memories of their youth but never really went for celebrity culture. They could be one's neighbours or the people you pass in the supermarket. That's not to say that they aren't interesting, as they include some quirky characters like the affably campy John King and producer Jim Dickinson's elderly but eternally young widow.
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9/10
Never heard of them before, but so glad I watched this
felix-felixscaketeria24 October 2017
Really bored this evening and decided to watch this documentary which turned out to be both tragic, and heartwarming....bittersweet. It was just heartbreaking to see their journey, with big dreams and great material, turn into their broken dreams which would later inspire thousands of fans and dozens of musical acts. Really beautifully done.
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8/10
Documentary about the greatest band you never heard of!
michaelRokeefe4 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very interesting and informative documentary that explores the history of a band called Big Star, started in Memphis by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. Chilton had already struck pay dirt with a Memphis garage band named the Box Tops. Chilton's gravely voice powered hits like "The Letter", "Cry Like A Baby" and "Soul Deep" between 1967 and 1970. Alex was joined by Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens to form Big Star existing 1971-1974. The band was dark, existential and foreshadowed alternative rock, but experienced almost no commercial fame with their three released LPs; however influenced artists like R.E.M., The Cramps, The Replacements, The Posies and Flaming Lips. Songs like "Ballad of El Goodo", "In The Streets", "Thirteen", "Try Again", "Kangaroo" and "September Gurls" are considered monumental by their followers. If you are a die-hard fan of indie-rock, NOTHING CAN HURT ME will strike a note that will long be remembered.
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8/10
Memphis rock band Big Star: perhaps jinxed by the name, with more tragedies than triumphs
moonspinner552 January 2015
Terrific rock 'n roll documentary from Drew DeNicola chronicling the rise, the fall, and the third-act reunion of Big Star, a band of serious music guys out of Memphis, Tennessee. Formed in 1971 by Chris Bell, a local musician straight from college, and led by Alex Chilton (who had previously been the lead vocalist with the Box Tops), the group--their name taken, apparently in desperation, from a Memphis grocery store--recorded two critically-acclaimed but non-selling albums before splintering (the band's third album, practically a Chilton solo, is given the short shrift here; was it ever considered completed by Chilton? And what was his reaction when it was finally officially released?). Interviews with the surviving musicians (a slimming group), crew members and relatives provide much of the information needed to put together a fairly clear picture of what the music scene was like in the early 1970s (with poor label distribution and Clive Davis' dismissal from Columbia Records two factors cited in destroying the band). The in-group melodrama is kept to a rather surprising minimum, while the snippets of Big Star's recordings (with Bell and Chilton a disparate yet fully-melded musical duo) are glorious to hear. *** from ****
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4/10
OK, but only OK.
bcrox530 December 2013
As a voracious consumer of "Rock Docs," this one left me flat. The story is told in such a way that it is nearly impossible to follow (unless you are a Memphis super fan, I guess). It ambled along following every little thread until I just didn't care anymore.

As with "Mr. Blue Sky" (the Geoff Lynne doc), the superlatives flow like water. After a while, they just become meaningless.

And most important of all, I didn't leave this film and rush straight to ITUNES to download their work. If the music is as good as the interviewees bleated on about; they were not able to convey it within the film itself.
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2/10
Meh...
T-Rex122 August 2014
Being a voracious consumer of rock music during the 1970's and having a pretty good grip on the major and minor players of the era, unfortunately I have to say that "Big Star" just wasn't very good. And I also remember the opinions of rock critics were usually out of sync with what most people were buying records of and tickets to see back then, so it should come as no surprise that they would try to spin some superlative filled sleep inducing documentary to fulfill their need to show us all how wrong we were. Sorry critics, it still goes right over your little heads. This is a condescending little foray into what was a fantastic decade of music, in spite of whether the critics approved or not.
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2/10
Don't bother
rickpoker27 February 2019
Overblown story about a band that wasn't good enough to go national. Change the names and this story could be told about a thousand bands all across the country.. Don't waste 2 hours of your life on this documentary
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4/10
Great Clips
sandy-3407 February 2018
I understand that a band - especially a few cute guys playing instruments - with lots of pictures documenting their experiences recording some songs is catnip to hungry music aficionados. But I honestly don't get it... this documentary is more about a bunch of people surrounding a few of these guys who recorded some mediocre songs, had a couple of songs recognized by great songwriters like Elliott Smith, etc. But the story is a jumbled telling of a couple of guys who accomplished almost nothing, who joined in at one point with a guy who was a one-hit wonder. Kind of boring....
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5/10
Surely this is a Mockumentary?
polsixe1 May 2017
It seems too much effort to fake a documentary of an unknown band, the old photos, current video, how did they age the actors or de-age them? The music clips and documentary style seem pure HBO/cable it just seems to be an overly serious parody, but there's no humour. Who's heard of this band, it's all so meta it's either brilliant or ridiculous.
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2/10
Not particularly great
Taylormetzer11 January 2014
A good watch if you are fond of a bunch of skinny guitar strum mere of the beatnik generation trying to imitate The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. These rockers say F U to the establishment in girly skinny jeans fashion. Features local artists in the 1960's looking to make a world of difference in rockabilly influenced style. Takes place in the late 1960's in the Nixon Vietnam era of U.S. History. I'm not too sure if it includes much of an account of pet sounds or Sgt. Pepper in the likes of the documentary, one can imagine an account of the flower pedal influences in the world would be mentioned in this film. I don't consider the Big Star Story to have much of a spot in U.S. Rock N' Roll history, but some might have a contended thought. Fender and Gibson guitar adores May like this film. It has an array of sound and imagery, but that's enough for me.
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