A couple of hundred Memphians at Studio on the Square got a sneak preview last night of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a documentary feature about the legendary Memphis band of the ’70s that helped relaunch the career of Alex Chilton and launch, a decade later, a whole generation of alternative-rock and post-punk bands.
A trailer for Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me:
The work-in-progress screening was sponsored by the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy as part of an annual membership event and featured a post-screening question-and-answer session with New York-based filmmakers Drew DeNicola, Danielle McCarthy, Olivia Mori, along with the lone remaining original member of the band, Ardent Studios' Jody Stephens.
Before the screening, DeNicola (the film's director and editor) labeled it “a participatory event,” in which he wanted feedback from an audience that knows the band and its story well before heading back to the editing room to complete the film.
This rough cut was missing some graphics and was probably five-to-ten minutes longer than what the final theatrical version will be. But even as a work-in-progress it was impressive. Working with a total absence of full performance footage, the doc does a excellent job of weaving what archival material there is (including brief, provocative silent bits of in-studio footage) with talking-head interview segments to tell a compelling story of the constantly evolving band and the scene that surrounded them.
The film, at least in its current form, makes a strong case for Big Star as a “Memphis band” rather than as a band that stood apart from the city's style, and uses the evolution of Alex Chilton to tell a musical story that stretches from mid-Sixties pop to late-Seventies punk. Though there are plenty of testimonials from people deeply affected by the band, the film is nicely modulated, making its case without ever slipping into hagiography.
From here, the documentary team will return to post-production, finishing the film for a prospective fall film-fest run, which may include a screening at November's Indie Memphis Film Festival. We'll have much more on the film whenever the finished product makes its public debut in Memphis. For now, you can learn more about the project here.