DVD Review – American: The Bill Hicks Story
To a lot of people, Bill Hicks was a captivating comedian from another generation. He has become a name within comedy that almost everybody knows, but how well did we really know him? In this documentary, directors Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock take us on a journey through Bill’s life with intimate interviews from the people who knew him best, unseen archive footage from his earliest performances and a striking animation style that brings unseen points of his timeline to life.
American: The Bill Hicks Story stands out as a documentary in its decision to turn away from just showing talking heads for an hour and a half. Granted, Bill’s life was interesting and certainly turbulent enough for this to still be entertaining; but the film goes out of its way to reconstruct pivotal moments in his life to engage us. How is this achieved? Well, Bill was a man who was confident in the legacy he created and his place in history. He kept hundreds of photos over the course of his career which serves as the backbone to this story. His mom said: “When he got sick, Bill wanted to help me file all of his photographs, and he showed me Hendrix and Dylan documentaries. I said “Bill, why are you showing me all of this?” and he said ‘In case someone comes, mom, and they want to make one about me.’” And came they did.
The pictures are put into a 3D space and animated to visualise the events his family and friends talk about. Scenes such as the numerous campfire mushroom trips and a 16 year old Bill climbing out of his bedroom window to go perform his first ever gig are just a couple of the scenes brought to life.
The story begins by re-telling his first forays into sketches with his comedy partner Dwight Slade through some preserved Super 8 footage. It soon moves onto recounting his time trying to make it as a stand-up whilst battling various hurdles such as his drink abuse, difficulty finding fame in America and his eventual battle with cancer.
The documentary expects that you’re probably already familiar with most of Bill’s material and as such is peppered with only a few clips from over the years. But that’s fine; it’s the personal story that takes centre stage here. Having said that, hearing Bill’s closing monologue, ‘It’s just a ride…’, still never fails to send chills.
If you’re a fan of his material, you owe it to yourself to see this documentary. Many of us may have already known ‘Bill Hicks – the comedian’ but it’s only after watching American that you can feel you knew ‘Bill Hicks – the man.’