DVD Review – American: The Bill Hicks Story


William Melvin “Bill” Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer at the stupidly young age of 32.

Passionate about truth and honesty, driven to distraction by Republicans, pro-drugs, anti-manufactured pop, his rants were always thought provoking as well as hilarious. In the UK he was a superstar, in his home country less so. Sadly he started to “break” America properly just as his illness was diagnosed.

American: The Bill Hicks Story catalogues his life using interviews from family and friends, thousands of photos, animation and footage of Hick’s stand up. It is an amazing documentary from filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas that took 3 years to make and relies on the trust and honesty that those close to Hicks have put into this project, the 10 people that knew him best. (It’s a sad truth of Bill’s life that none of these have any romantic involvement, it’s all friends and family).

Starting with an account of how Bill, the youngest of three, grew up, it moves quickly to his friendship with Dwight Slade, and his first foray into live comedy at the age of just 15. Early footage of Hicks performing on his own after Slade moved to Oregon shows that even at a young age he had an amazing perspective, as one interviewee says “there has never been anyone funnier at that age”.

The story is told in a seamless fashion, the animated manipulation of photographs never grates or is intrusive, and the accounts from all interviewees are genuinely fascinating. Harlock and Thomas had 120 hours of interview footage and over 1300 unseen photographs. The interview footage alone took 7 months to edit into a coherent narrative.

The movie is honest about Hick’s alcohol and drug abuse, as he himself was, and doesn’t shirk from those times when his performances were dire as a result. Each performance we see is tied in with the chronology of his life and it’s fascinating to watch him grow as a performer in the 110 minutes of the documentary. If that wasn’t enough, the second DVD has 5 hours of additional material including deleted animated scenes, more interviews and additional footage of Bill.

To call this a labour of love is not to overstate how this has all been put together. Anyone interested in comedy should watch this, to see a performer develop and grow. For die-hard Hicks fans like myself, it’s a joyful, if emotional experience. It never becomes over-wrought or overstated, never seems to place any editorial comment, the excellent content speaks for itself.

Damn dude, you left us far too soon….

American: The Bill Hicks Story is released on DVD on September 27th.


~ by moviegrrlreviews on September 26, 2010.

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