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 power-pop 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 “Rolling 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.
**NOTE: Alex Chilton was barely 16 when he sang lead on the hit song “The Letter” for The Box Tops.
You can learn more about the band and the documentary at http://www.bigstarstory.com/
watch the trailer: