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VOL. 128 | NO. 135 | Friday, July 12, 2013

Rockin’ Summer

Big Star film headlines Levitt Shell movie series

By Bill Dries

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Just shy of 40 years after the band Big Star last played at the Overton Park Shell, the short-lived Memphis band is about to have a bigger summer locally than it could have envisioned in 1974.

Once the summer concert season at the Levitt Shell ends this weekend, the summer concert film series begins at the Shell, which has featured a wide range of concert films covering the last 50 years.

(Indie Memphis)

A long-awaited documentary about what has become the city’s most famous unknown band opens Friday, July 12, in a movie theater at the epicenter of the 1970s Memphis environment the band lived its short life in.

“Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” opens Friday for a run at Malco’s Studio on the Square in Overton Square.

But the documentary isn’t the only reminder of Big Star’s continuing past.

When the third annual Indie Memphis concert film series gets underway July 18 at the Levitt Shell, the lineup will include the 1994 concert film “Big Star: Live in Memphis.”

It’s a reunion of the band at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street that featured original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens with Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of The Posies. It was the first Big Star performance in Memphis in almost 20 years.

The Big Star concert film shows Aug. 24 at the Shell.

“Big Star is near and dear to our hearts at the Shell. They have a long history at the Shell,” said Anne E. Pitts, executive director of the Levitt Shell. “It’s going to be a wonderful moment.”

The film series with selections made by the Indie Memphis Film Festival debuts Friday, July 18, with the 1986 concert film “Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest.”

“It started out as something that they were doing more or less as a promotion or leading into the Indie Memphis film festival and then the popularity of it just became so huge,” Pitts said. “People were really starting to ask about it all year long and anticipate it for the summer time.”

The week after the Queen film, the series switches to a regular Saturday slot on July 27 with “The Doors Live at the Bowl ’68” followed by the 2011 film “Big Easy Express” on Aug. 3.

The Aug. 10 screening is a Rolling Stones double feature of the 1968 television show that never aired – “Rock & Roll Circus” and “Some Girls Live in Texas ’78.”

“Paul McCartney & Wings: Rockshow,” the 1975-1976 concert film, is featured Aug. 17 with the Big Star New Daisy concert film closing out the series.

“We’re starting right after the concerts end and then we will end the films right before the fall season begins,” Pitts said. “For us it’s great because there’s always action happening at the Shell.”

But when the movie screen replaces the live bands on the Shell’s stage, Pitts said there are some differences.

“Our concerts are all family-friendly concerts, and they’re very family centric and they are presented at a time of day that makes it easy for families to come out together and spend that time and enjoy the concerts and get home and be able to get the kids to bed at a decent hour,” she said. “With the films, because they have to start much later (dusk) … they are being presented at a time when it’s still something families can enjoy together. But the ones with the younger kids are probably not going to be able to attend because of the lateness of the start time.”

All of the films bring to mind the Shell’s controversial concert heyday in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

A 1971 Shell performance by Big Star is combined with some rehearsal tracks for the 1999 CD release “Big Star: Nobody Can Dance,” which features cover art of a work crew tending to the old wooden benches that were once the seating area of the Shell.

By the 1974 concert at the Shell, Big Star had been through several lineup changes and remained plagued by distribution problems tied to Stax Records as well as other problems of the music business of the day.

A year and a half later the power pop band would break up and vanish into complete obscurity that lasted about 20 years.

By the mid-1990s, Big Star was bigger than the band had ever been in its original incarnations through three albums recorded at Ardent Studios’ original location on National Street and its present location on Madison Avenue, not far from the movie theater.

It’s also not far from the Shell, now called the Levitt Shell.

The 1993 reunion in the concert film came at a time when the Shell was in transition.

The reformed band returned to the Levitt Shell in May 2010 for a performance shortly after the death that same year of Chilton.

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