American: The Bill Hicks Story Review
It is a tall order to make a feature length documentary about any one person, let alone a comedian, but then Bill Hicks was more than just a comedian.
This man was a cult hero, socio-political crusader and poll-topping stand-up, yet up until now no one had made a convincing enough tribute to get it commissioned or gain the blessing of the Hicks family. But three years ago a couple of British TV producer/directors, Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock, came up with a whole new way of telling Bill’s life story.
Using a technique, previously seen on documentary, The Kid Stays in the Picture the film-makers have taken the archive of photographs donated by family and friends and turned them into 3D recreations of key events in his life. The other key difference from the majority of similar films is that with this engrossing new visual method they have been able to do away with traditional talking heads, instead having the narration come from in-depth interviews conducted with ten key people in Bill’s life.
The effect is such that both fans and first-timers alike will be informed and immersed by the rollercoaster journey that was his 32 years on earth. The film moves chronologically through key events, such as sneaking out to his first comedy gig, his failed move to LA, experimentation with mushrooms and descent into harder drugs and drink, before his sobering up and eventual ill-fated battle with pancreatic cancer.
The title alludes to the central theme of his fierce patriotism and subsequent disillusionment with the way his country was being run, something which resulted in his campaigning comedy never gaining him the mainstream recognition he deserved in America; but received in the UK and Europe. Hopefully this film may go someway to achieving that, while inspiring a whole new generation of comedians and activists at the same time.
As a first feature for the fledgling film-makers and a tribute to Bill, it is almost faultless – although some have criticised the lack of insight into his love life or any critical tone when dealing with his bingeing and somewhat contradictory homophobia – but this would appear to be the trade-off for the illuminating testimony of his friends and family.
So while the film may be rather celebratory in tone, it is rather refreshing to watch a live fast, die young biopic which doesn’t wallow in romantic tragedy or drink and drug destruction, but instead finishes with a man’s redemption in death and an empowering message delivered through his mastery of comedy.