News Column

'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me' review: Meandering

July 19, 2013

YellowBrix

July 19--Documentary. Directed by Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori. (Not rated. 113 minutes.)

"Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" is no doubt going to 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.

The documentary chronicles the tortured path of the Memphis group Big Star, which failed to achieve popularity in the early 1970s despite critical raves. To this day, the band's three albums are considered masterpieces by those in the know.

Unfortunately, music writers and other insiders (too many to keep track of) dominate this film to the point where you want them to stop talking and just let the music take over. The few times that occurs, the movie soars.

For unavoidable reasons, there is virtually no footage of the band playing, and its two key members, Chris Bell and ex-Box Tops singer Alex Chilton, never appear on camera in any meaningful way. It hurts the film, which meanders in its second half, much as the performers did when the band broke up in 1974.

When it comes down to it, the story of the band's bad luck with record distributors and radio stations isn't all that interesting, unless you're a fan who can't get enough of such minutiae.

More compelling are the human interactions within the band, though the most important humans in this case aren't around to talk about it. The ultimate calling card of "Big Star," of course, is the music, but this nearly two-hour film relegates most of those songs to the background, in small doses, not quite enough for us to join in the high praise of this mythic band.

David Lewis is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: davidlewis@sfchronicle.com

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