AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Bill Hicks was a comedian in the 80s and 90s who broke some barriers and is still considered a strong influential figure. He died at a young age of pancreatic cancer, hitting him in the prime of his career. More accepted in the UK than in his home country of the US, Hicks’ life is profiled in this BBC documentary.
WHAT I LIKED
“American: The Bill Hicks Story” is a relatively well-balanced look at the life of this comedian. It takes a non-traditional approach to Hicks’ story by liberally using animation and archival footage to chronicle his life. Even though I listened to a lot of stand-up in the 80s and 90s, I was not very familiar with Hicks, so it was a good way to get a look at his career in a string of stand-up snap shots.
The greatest strength of this film is that the directors did not overly glorify Hicks. Near the end of his career, they heap a bit too much honor on him, but that’s to be expected for a posthumous profile. Still, his earlier years are shown with unflinching honesty, including his struggles with substance abuse and deep bitterness to his family and, at times, his country.
Still, this is a movie made for the fans of Bill Hicks. It features plenty of personal moments that you normally don’t find in a comedy profile. In fact, it’s not that funny at all, but more tragic. Sure, there are excerpts from his comedy shows that will make the fans chuckle, but it’s more a story of a man coming to terms with his own career.
If you want to laugh, this isn’t your film, but if you want to know more about the personal story of Bill Hicks, check it out.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
I never heard much Bill Hicks during his career, and that’s to be expected considering he was more popular overseas. Personally, after watching the clips presented in this film, I’m not wild about his comedy. For as much as he sniped at Denis Leary for stealing his material (which isn’t presented in the film, but is known among comedy fans), Hicks rips of Sam Kineson in his early years. These inter-comedian relationships would have been more interesting to me, especially later in the documentary when the film starts to revere Hicks.
Finally, the title of the film is awful. I know it’s meant to be ironic and showing Hicks’ patriotism for speaking out against what he thought wasn’t right. But if you’ve never heard of Bill Hicks, it appears to be a film about a politician or a docudrama about the same. Here’s a great example of a DVD you shouldn’t judge by the cover, and sadly too many Americans aren’t familiar enough with Bill Hicks to look past that.
There’s a ton of special features on this release, which fill two discs. There are 30 minutes of rare clips of Hicks’ performances (shot on shakycam video, unfortunately), plus three hours of extended interviews. There are also deleted and extended scenes and interviews as well as alternate animation sequences.
The 90 minutes of featurettes include “Austin SXSW Panel with Bill’s Friends,” “Dominion Tour,” “Festivals in the US and UK with the Hicks,” “Bill’s Family Visits Abby Road,” “UK 15th Anniversary Tribute,” “Comedy School,” “Dwight in London,” “Making of Arizona Bay” and “The Ranch.”
Probably the most touching features, though, are Hicks’ personal audio journals, which chronicle his thoughts on his life early in his career.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Fans of Bill Hicks’ comedy.