28 February 2010

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Hi folks

Here’s the one-word review: PHENOMINAL!!!

For those of you that want a bit more, here we go...

As many long-time readers (hi there!) will know I am a huge fan of American comedian Bill Hicks. This is all thanks to my best mate, Peter, who would listen to Hicks’ CDs as he went to sleep. Any night I was staying over – and sleeping on his floor – I would be listening to Hicks ranting about various issues and was intrigued by what he had to say. Now, I have the CDs, I have the DVDs and a number of books and have enjoyed them all. If I find out about a Hicks-related event going on that I can get to, I’ll be there. Sadly, I hear of far too few of them in my part of the world and don’t know enough to be able to put one on myself, so imagine my joy when I heard that there was to be a screening of a new biographical documentary on him – “American: The Bill Hicks Story” – at the Glasgow Film Festival last Saturday night. The only problem was that I found out on the Thursday morning before it was due to happen! After a quick phone call to Peter to see if he wanted, and was able, to go too (sadly, he couldn’t make it) I booked my ticket and was set.

The screening was to be held in the Glasgow Film Theatre (the GFT), a place that I had passed on a couple of occasions but never been in. It is a beautiful building in the “art deco” style which, from what I have been able to find out, was opened in the 1930s as the Cosmo and became the GFT in the mid-1980s. It has the Glasgow home of art-house and foreign-language films ever since it opened and is one of the main performance venues during the Glasgow Film Festival.

As for the documentary itself, I cannot find enough superlatives to describe it. Sure, I was pretty sure that I’d enjoy it, but didn’t know I would enjoy it this much! My one worry was that it would be too much like “It’s Just A Ride”, a documentary that Channel 4 made a number of years ago and that is now available in the UK on the “Totally Bill Hicks” DVD. But this was completely different. Except for a shot of Dwight Slade talking on camera at the start, there was a distinct lack of “talking heads” in this as most of the visuals were taken up by pictures from Hicks’ past as well as his archives. There was, of course, footage of him performing at various points in through his career including some very early footage of him performing at the Comedy Annex in Houston when he was still at school. I had to stop myself from playing sing-a-long-a-Hicks with a couple of my favourite routines that are included in the documentary!

What made this documentary stand out was that the stills images used were not just static. A large number had been animated to act out certain episodes from Hicks’ life such as sneaking out of his house to perform when he was too young, moving to Los Angeles to become a comedian as well as his most famous experience with magic mushrooms. This gave this documentary a feeling that it was more than just “here’s the life of Bill Hicks” and feeling more of “here’s the story of Bill Hicks’ life”. Sure, there were bits missed out; there had to be to give the documentary some flow. There isn’t much mention about his religious views and his relationships are not really mentioned at all but, to be honest, their omission did not detract from the story at all.

At the end of the documentary, the 2 Directors, Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, took questions from the audience about the documentary and its making. They told a few interesting stories about the making of it, as well as how long it took them to get the trust of the Hicks family so they could get access to the archived material.

In my opinion, their trust was justified as Harlock and Thomas have lovingly created a brilliant documentary that, as others have said before me, will engage both those who are fans of Hicks as well as those who have yet to discover him.

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

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