News Column

Big Star's 1994 reunion show caps concert film series at Shell [Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)]

June 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Unseen for almost 20 years, a filmed record of Big Star's historic 1994 homecoming reunion show at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street has been edited into a feature that will have its premiere this summer as part of the third annual Indie Memphis "Concert Film Series" at the Levitt Shell.

"Big Star: Live in Memphis" is the working title of the feature, shot with four Betacam SP video cameras on Oct. 29, 1994, when original Big Star members Alex Chilton leader of the revered Memphis power-pop band and drummer Jody Stephens were joined by Big Star acolytes Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies.

The 70-minute concert was a key event in the resurrection of the reconfigured Big Star as a working band and in the acknowledgment of the original Big Star as a major force on rock and roll in the decades after the 1970s release of three poor-selling but increasingly venerated Big Star albums, which put a Memphis spin on British Invasion-style rock and wry pop songcraft.

"Big Star: Live in Memphis" is primarily a project of Memphians Robert Gordon, author and filmmaker; David Leonard, photographer and filmmaker; and Danny Graflund, Chilton's longtime pal and bodyguard. Leonard's interest in examining the little-seen footage led to the decision to retrieve it, remaster it and edit it into a concert documentary that Gordon describes as "a blast."

"I couldn't believe the quality of the footage was so good," said Gordon, who, with Graflund, had arranged to have the concert filmed in the first place, then stored the video after failing to interest any potential record or video labels in the 1990s.

The concert was the first Big Star show in Memphis in two decades. "Alex is really enjoying himself in front of his hometown, and he and camera are getting along," Gordon said. "It's warm and funny and also poignant."

The poignancy is due to Chilton's death from a heart attack on March 17, 2010, at the age of 59, by which time Big Star's legacy was secure enough to have inspired a major box set and feature-film documentary. (Band co-founder Chris Bell died in a 1978 car wreck at 27. Original bassist Andy Hummel, who did not participate in the band's reunion, died four months after Chilton, after a long battle with cancer, at 59.)

Recently completed, the documentary "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me," which examines the history and influence of the band, is set to begin its Memphis theatrical run July 12 at the Malco Ridgeway Four, a week after opening in New York and Los Angeles. The film had its U.S. premiere last year at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. None of the footage from "Big Star: Live in Memphis" appears in "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me."

Coordinated by Indie Memphis, the third annual "Concert Film Series" which offers a cinematic counterpart to the venue's popular live performance series also will screen movies featuring Paul McCartney & Wings, The Doors, the Rolling Stones, Queen and Mumford & Sons. Admission is free, and as with the live shows at the Shell food and drinks will be available for purchase. Films begin at dusk.

Here's the lineup of films:

"Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest '86." (July 18) During the group's last concert tour before the death of lead singer Freddie Mercury, Queen performed in front of 80,000 frenzied fans in what was the first stadium rock show by a Western band behind the Iron Curtain.

"The Doors Live at the Bowl '68." (July 27) Many fans apparently regard this July 5 Hollywood Bowl show as the best Doors performance on film. The screening is especially timely considering the May 20 death of keyboard player Ray Manzarek, whose signature Vox Continental combo organ was as much a defining element of the band's sound as Jim Morrison's baritone.

"Big Easy Express." (Aug. 3) The only film in the series showcasing new bands, this movie follows the 2011 "Railroad Revival Tour" that teamed popular British folk-rockers Mumford & Sons with the Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show, plus Los Angeles' Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

"The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" and "Some Girls: Live in Texas, '78." (Aug. 10) This Rolling Stones double feature shows off the band at the height of its power in two different eras. The first is a sort of 1968 rock and roll variety program produced by the Stones for the BBC but withheld for three decades; The Who, Taj Mahal and John Lennon are among the performers who join the Stones. The second is a concert film capturing the revitalized Stones on tour in support of the band's then-latest album, Some Girls, adding songs like "Respectable" and "Shattered" to a legendary repertoire.

"Rockshow." (Aug. 17) Memphians still buzzing over Paul McCartney's recent show at FedExForum might not want to miss this chance to see the ex-Beatle in concert, onscreen if not exactly onstage, in a 1980 documentary that captures McCartney & Wings during the band's 1975-76 "Wings Over the World" tour. Digitally remastered to accompany the CD re-release of the live Wings Over America album (originally a three-LP set that reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts in 1977), this concert film edited from dates in Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington is seen in its intended 125- minute length for the first time, with a 30-song selection that includes such Beatles classics as "Lady Madonna" and "Blackbird" along with such Wings favorites as "Hi, Hi, Hi" and "Let Me Roll It."

"Big Star: Live in Memphis." (Aug. 24)

For more information, visit indiememphis.com or levittshell.org.

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