(directors: Drew DeNicola & Olivia Mori; cinematographer: Drew DeNicola; editors: Christopher Branca/Drew DeNicola; music: Big Star; cast: Jon Auer, Andy Hummell, Jody Stephens,Chris Bell, Alex Chilton, John Lightman, John Fry, Jim Dickinson, John King; Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Olivia Mori/Danielle McCarthy; Magnolia Pictures; 2013)

Messy but inspiring musical doc.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The messy but inspiring musical doc by Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori passionately tells us about a doomed Memphis rock ā€™nā€™ roll band, the original from 1971, who in their short career of only a few years made only three records (#1 Record-1972, Radio City-1974, Third, aka, Sister Lovers-released in 1978 after their breakup a few years before), all of which were poor commercially but universally acclaimed as masterpieces by music critics. The lost began is not completely forgotten as they have reached legendary status among musicians and are viewed today as a beloved group among certain pop music aficionados and have become influential in the music world with such artists asYo La Tengo, R.E.M., The Replacements, and The Flaming Lips. The pic uses scores of interviews and rare archive footage of the mostly unknown band. We thereby get too little of their great music but a lot of chatter and an odd profiling of their short career, that leaves big gaps in their story.

It started in Memphis when everything that went right (getting access to start-up Ardent recording studio) only too soon went wrong. Their demise resulted from an ego conflict between its co-founders, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, causing a split after the first album, and then on the second album they were unable to get distribution when their soul music Stax record label went bust and their distributor Columbia pulled out.

Both co-founders of the group are dead, as the tragic now almost forgotten Chris Bell, whose downfall is touchingly told, died in 1978, at 27, in a traffic accident whereby his car hit a utility pole. The tortured soul Chris is viewed as wrestling with drug problems and inner psychological problems. Chris left the group after the first album because of jealousy that his co-frontman Alex Chilton, former Box Top lead singer at 16, was getting all the press clippings. Bell eventually returns to his Christian roots to get answers after unable to get recording studios here and in England to produce his solo work. Meanwhile Chilton, a difficult cat to deal with, distanced himself from the group after its demise in 1974 and went on to a so-so mostly solo career doing experimental music and died of a heart attack in 2010. Also gone are bassist Andy Hummel and their producer on the third album Jim Dickinson. The longest interviews are with John Fry, who was close to their age and owned the Ardent recording studio, and the group’s drummer Jody Stephens, who kept saying he could not understanding how the critics loved them yet their records could not sell. Without hearing Bell or Chilton explaining what went down in their own words, the pic lacked a voice to fill in the many gaps in its story.

If you’re a rock fan and interested in Big Star’s tale of misfortune, a band named after a super-market in Memphis, and a group that was always waiting to connect with the right audience, this one will give you a good idea of what the band was like if nothing else. If you’re a fan, this is a must see film. My problem was that I grew weary of the over-eager writers and producers telling me how brilliant were the songs and then only snippets of their songs were played. The group, I never heard of before, is still a mystery. Though I now get that their unique music is a blending of light pop sounds with an R&B beat and loud rock guitars.