American: The Bill Hicks Story - 8th May 2011

For those of you who don't know who Bill Hicks is, stop reading, go away, google Bill Hicks, buy his albums, watch his stand-up shows, come back and we can talk. Actually, for those of you who don't know anything about Bill Hicks, this documentary might be for you.
No, actually I was wrong to say that, go and watch this - Bill Hicks - Relentless, which is Bill Hicks live in Montreal in 1991 (you gotta love YouTube) and possibly one of the greatest stand-up shows of all time and then maybe watch this documentary.

You see the problem is that it's too in-depth to be an introduction piece and not in-depth enough, in certain areas, for die hard fans. Unfortunately and I hate to say this but it doesn't even work like one of those documentary's, like the US Vs. John Lennon, where we reflect on the past to comment on the future, socially and politically. Considering the time, energy and effort obviously put into this documentary, not just by the film makers but by all the friends and family of Bill's who show up to be interviewed and open their archives, it's a wonder that the subject matter chosen is so mundane.

Let me start from the beginning. I am a Bill Hicks fan and was a huge Bill Hicks fan. As a teenager and then a young man I collected all of his CDs and whatever video footage was available, I have also read his unofficial biography, his official biography and his book of shows and interviews 'Love All the People' so I can accept that it would've been hard for this documentary to really show me something new.
That said there were a couple of tantalising stories in there, where there was some new information, but I guess what frustrated me was that those seemed rushed and unevolved as ideas. Yet stories about his, well documented, drug use and alcohol abuse, never ending, unappreciated road tour of small towns in the States and the other, well documented, fact that he was performing in comedy clubs since he was a teenager, were given a large amount of the running time to play out but at no point really got under the skin of the man.

The technique used for all this, a sort of long running, almost pythonesque, photo montage and animation, illustrating the stories in the interviews being given, was a novel and entertaining enough way to get passed the 'talking head' structure of documentary's like this, where footage of the actual subject was scarce, but when I sat down to watch it I had no idea it lasted almost the whole length of the film and it got quite annoying trying to work out who was talking, when and why because, sometimes there was no indication. Also, while you could debate back and forth which clips should be played where and why, very often the clips that were shown were, really, in the vaguest of contexts and with no commentary on them afterwards at all.

There was little to no talk about his actual upbringing or religion. There were constant references to his philosophy but normally in the most round-about and unspecific terms. There was nothing about his personal, female relationships. There was nothing about his attacks on Jay Leno and only a passing comment about being censored from Letterman. Only very loose and confusing references made to his illness, in the lead up to his death and no attempt to put any of his, subsequent, frantic amassing of work into any sort of timeline and in fact the whole last 3 years of his life, where his career was taking off in England, he was reconnecting with his family and friends, he headed back to Texas to record extensively for future albums and they made several films was also completely rushed and glossed over in an almost bizarrely crude and annoying way.

This maybe one of those where you need to get the DVD which apparently comes with hours and hours of extra footage because there must be a better documentary in all the access and interviews they got, there must be. I am just not sure who their editor or researcher was because for the area of Hicks' life that they did cover (the road most travelled unfortunately) the Channel 4 talking-heads doc that appears on the Revelations VHS and DVD is far better. In fact just in researching this review I have found better things to watch on YouTube.

Yes it is great that people are keeping Hicks' flame alive and yes it's fantastic this documentary got a theatrical release and all the subsequent attention it got but ultimately, if you are just watching the theatrical cut of this and not all the DVD extras, this is, unfortunately, not a must-see for anyone with a passing knowledge of Hicks. Watch it if you like, it's entertaining enough, some of the clips and photos are relatively fascinating and it's always great to hear the guys routines but if it's information and depth you're after, you are still best doing your own research.

5 out of 10 waffle hut waffles (I am not proud of it, I was hungry)

Hobo with a Shotgun - 8th May 2011

Stranger Than Fiction - 3rd May 2011