If you didn’t see it during its premier or the follow up concert, now is your chance to own this very thorough documentary on one of the most important bands in the history of power pop. Big Star is better known for their massive influence than hit records or performances. Born in the shadow of the Memphis rock scene of the 1960s it couldn’t catch a break, despite critical acclaim and the legendary Alex Chilton and Chris Bell combination.
The first half concentrates on the Memphis scene at Ardent Records, and studio founder and engineer John Fry giving the group a chance. It seems like a Southern fried Haight Ashbury at the time, with interesting interviews of trippy photographer William Eggleston, Fry and others close to the band. It goes into details on both Chilton and Bell’s background, but often leaves you with more questions than answers. The band interviews are sparse and mainly audio (with photos) and include bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens. The bottom line for Big Star’s commercial failure at the time is clearly record distribution and promotion.
The second half of the film talks mainly about the influence the band’s songs had with the next generation of musicians. How the Posies (Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer) reformed the band and got Chilton to play again till his death in 2010. Musicians Chris Stamey, Mike Mills (REM) and Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) are a few of the many interviews with fans who championed Big Star, a band that managed to find their audience decades later. The extra features on the disc include more details on Bell and Chilton’s childhood, as well as “Big Star in the Studio,” another interview with Fry about the band’s recording style. For the non-fan I would recommend listening to the band’s music first, but for the initiated this is a validation of the greatness that was Big Star.