“Alex Chilton was perhaps the quintessential rock & roll hero.” – David Marchese, ROLLING STONE
This feature length documentary explores the remarkable story of Alex Chilton, whose instant fame with a #1 hit record at age 16 was followed by a long and winding journey through works of neglected genius, darkness and obscurity before he was gradually discovered and rediscovered by fans, fellow musicians and critics. As the influence of his music continued to grow, he became a reluctant cult figure while staying true to his own eclectic and unpredictable muses. His is the story of a true artist - one whose life and career plainly present us with the question: what is the difference between fame and success?
I was in a unique position to launch this project. Being from our shared hometown of Memphis (where I first got to know Alex when he was in his twenties, and I was in my teens) I knew where to start, who to interview and where to dig for archives. So I dove in, on a wing and a prayer and with no budget.
With the cooperation of his estate, and the help of many of his friends, I took it on as a personal project but it was never meant to be just another "fan" film or even a "friend" film. This is a serious documentary about a legendary, one-of-a-kind musician. A real film. A rare story. One of those stories that should inevitably become a film.
Your support through Kickstarter will strengthen this independent production and will help assure the film's completion.
SUPER SNEAK-PEAK - Sister Lovers/Big Star 3rd - complete sequence for the film.
SNEAK PEEK#5: The Box Tops - "Cry Like a Baby" (1968) Written for the group by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, it reached #2 on the charts, their biggest hit after "The Letter". Nobody could lip-sync quite like Alex.
SNEEK PEAK #4 "Rock Hard" the video - found & finally edited from 1979.
A GREAT STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD
“Chilton remains the most inscrutable rock musician not named Bob Dylan” -John Lingan, NEW REPUBLIC
He is one of the most unique and influential artists in modern American music, yet Alex Chilton remains famous for not being famous, like a secret handshake among true music lovers. The sweep of his career is almost without parallel. At age 16 he scored a #1 hit: "The Letter" on his very first recording session as lead singer of The Box Tops in his hometown of Memphis. He dropped out of school to become a pop star as the group shared concert bills with groups like The Doors and The Beach Boys and recorded more "blue-eyed soul" hits. After The Box Tops disbanded he joined and came to lead another Memphis group: Big Star, the fabled masters of "power-pop," in the early '70s. The group gave few live performances and their records were poorly distributed but became widely acclaimed over the years (all three L.P.s attributed to Big Star are listed among Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time"). Chilton created misunderstood masterpieces through the '70s with Sister Lovers/Big Star's Third and Like Flies on Sherbet while also becoming immersed in the New York punk rock scene and producing the first and greatest records by the legendary "psychobilly" ensemble: The Cramps. He backed away from the microphone and became a guitar-slinging sideman in the ramshackle "art damage" group - the Pantherburns, and then retired from public performance altogether for awhile before rediscovering his chops by fronting the house band in a daquiri dive on New Orleans' infamous Bourbon Street. He reinvented himself as a solo performer and recording artist in the '80s and emerged as a hero of college radio - a pioneer of the "indie" music scene. As the popularity of his earlier recordings rose, he refused to sing most of those songs and became an interpreter of obscure tunes from most every genre - transitioning from the rebel who could scare your parents into the veteran who honored the music of the elders. His influence on younger musicians insured a growing cult status and brought tributes, kudos and covers from such artists as the Replacements, the Bangles, Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Counting Crows, Teenage Fanclub, Elliot Smith, Wilco and many more. He eventually relented to his own popularity and occasionally performed under the banners of his earlier groups - The Box Tops and Big Star. Ever the iconoclast of his own myths, his career had lasted long enough for him to become one of those elders worth honoring.
“Why wasn’t he (Chilton) everybody’s hero? ... I cry every time I hear it. It’s so simple. It blows away everything I’ll ever do.” Jeff Buckley speaking of Sister Lovers/Big Star's Third.
THE FILM is well underway.
The Kickstarter campaign will fund completion of a film I began in 2011. I've gathered 50+ interviews and assembled a trove of archival material including rare photographs and performance footage. What I have accomplished so far as a one-man band is remarkable. But it's a big project and I will need some help to carry it across the finish line.
• Finding Alex's Voice First
To construct the story, I look first for samples of Alex speaking for himself - in his own inimitable voice. He became wary of the media early in his career and rarely agreed to on camera interviews. Fortunately, many audio interviews were recorded by broadcasters and writers who have been kind enough to share their original recordings for the project. Alex's candid reflections on his life's work come through clearly in these interviews.
• Interviews With Musical Collaborators
We eschew "expert" commentary and rely on those who witnessed his creative process firsthand. You will hear from participants in the famous chapters of Alex's career as well as some of his more obscure musical excursions. I've shot interviews in Nashville, New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, Georgia, Alabama, Paris, Glasgow, and of course Memphis. Pictured below are 16 of the 50 or so interviews "in-the-can".
Finding Rare Archival Footage & Photographs
My long approach to gathering material for the film has been rewarded with a collection of archival treasures. Alex almost never allowed himself to be filmed onstage, but I've found plenty of footage that captured rare glimpses of his brilliance as a performer. Our video from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s includes appearances of Chilton solo and with his groups: The Box Tops, Big Star and The Pantherburns. Among the video contributors are:
Pat Rainer and Tav Falco, two of Memphis' first video artists, have allowed access to their original tapes from the '70s. Both were exposed to the experimental video artistry of William Eggleston and Randall Lyon who led a local movement of pioneers with a distinctive style of verité in the earliest days of "portable" video.
Danny Graflund, Alex's friend and former "bodyguard", entrusted me with another treasured box of tapes that became "Big Star: Live in Memphis". This 1994 performance may be the only complete concert Alex ever allowed to be filmed by a professional multi-camera crew - yet the tapes remained unedited for nearly 20 years. I assembled the footage to find Alex giving a fabulous performance song after song. The complete concert film already has a life of its own as Omnivore Records released a DVD from the edit as well as vinyl and cd soundtracks. We have access to both the final edit and the raw footage from that performance.
I've found photographs and other memorabilia from many sources including Chilton's family's photo albums and the work of many fine photographers - some famous and some unknown.
Pat Rainer's photographs are finding a life of their own after I spent four days scanning her negatives from the late '70s for this film and realized she should have a show. I contacted the Stax Museum of American Soul in Memphis and they gave her a solo exhibition!
Editing Has Begun
It's coming together. For some sequences in the film we already have all the needed elements. I'm thrilled with what I see while editing these and I've shared completed sequences with just a handful of folks.
“When I see these edits, my first thought is this is what a REAL documentary looks like. This is what a REAL film looks like. I was blown away with the attention you put into it. It was a joy to watch and a beautiful homage to Alex. Your passion can be felt in every single second.“ - David Godlis, NYC photographer who captured iconic images of the late ‘70s punk explosion.
What's The Kickstarter Money For? What's Still Left To Do?
Honestly, I need a boost to complete this enormous labor of love. I need a budget to work on it full-time for a while and to bring in a few other pros to do some things I cannot expect someone else to do for free.
This budget will cover:
• editor/consulting editor - the critical step when we need a fresh set of eyes
• shoot final footage - mostly for bits that are precisely suggested by the edit including "tabletop" illustrations and b-roll
• graphics and animation - will facilitate storytelling transitions and sometimes we just need to add a little visual pizzazz - includes working with artists to create motion elements to animate the voice of Alex
• sound mix - sweetening the sound
• color correction - sweetening the picture
• production/legal coordination - to tie up loose ends
• festival submission fees and marketing expenses
Risks and challenges
Goals, Risks & Challenges
The first goal is for the film to premier in 2020.
The minimum we will accomplish with the help of this funding is the completion of a film that is ready to screen at festivals (and to be posted online for our supporters = YOU - to view) In fact, I've already received invitations based solely on the film's website and trailer at: https://www.alexchilton.rocks
We will aim for the top and submit to the finest festivals - festivals where deals are made - with the goal of finding distribution. This is the challenge for most independent films: to find an outlet, or outlets, who will pay for the right to show our film. Chilton's reputation will surely open a few doors and a well-made documentary about him should easily find an audience beyond the festival circuit. It is a multilayered process but at the core of it we must simply make a good film.
To be perfectly clear, we do not expect our minimum Kickstarter budget to cover the cost of licensing all the music. A lot of material will come from friendly sources and we have allies in the music business who will help negotiate music clearances but we are proceeding with the plan that much of that cost should be covered through the film's distribution (broadcast, streaming, theatrical, etc.).
Of course, we'll LOVE it if the Kickstarter campaign exceeds our minimum goal and we can start to pay off those music licenses and make it easier for outlets to pick up the show for distribution in markets large and small. If we have a truly stellar success and double, or maybe triple, our goal to pay for all those clearances, it could guarantee the film will be offered to wider audiences.
Please show your support and donate as much as you can to the ultimate realization of the film.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (41 days)