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 :-)

13 February 2010

Pat Page

The magic world has lost another giant in the form of Patrick Page. Pat was a walking, talking encyclopaedia of magic. What he did not know probably wasn’t worth knowing. He was the most brilliant all-round magical brain I have ever encountered. He was a great performer, a brilliant author and a phenomenal teacher. He was all that and a whole lot more. He was not scared to voice his opinion of a performer and criticise their performance but not in a Simon Cowell “no substance” manner. He would give his criticism and then tell you what to do to make it better.

OK, personal experience story time. Last year, I was invited to the invitation-only FFFF Convention in upstate New York. All first time attendees are expected to perform at the convention – it’s one of the rules – and I was scheduled to perform on the Thursday afternoon. When I walked out to perform, the front row was a who’s who of magic. People who’s books I had read or DVDs I had watched were sitting watching me. It was a scary prospect. I did my act and felt pretty happy about the performance. After the show had finished, I stood in the hotel lobby when Pat walked towards me. My moments of worry were halted when he stopped in front of me and said “I really enjoyed what you did. Very good.” I thanked him and he walked away. I was very touched that he would say that and very happy that it was Pat that had said that he enjoyed the performance. But I could not help but wonder if he was just being nice to me.

A couple of weeks later, I told Paul Wilson, who knew Pat a lot better than I did, that story and asked him if Pat was the sort of person to say that just to be nice. He told me he was not and that if he had not enjoyed what he had seen, he would have told me. At that moment, Pat Page walking up to me at FFFF and saying that he enjoyed my performance was confirmed as one of the highlights of my life as a performer.

If I may, and I hope Paul does not mind me telling this story, I have one more wee story for you. Now, I will tell you now that I may not have all the exact details right but this story will give you an idea how generous Pat Page could be.

Paul and Pat would try to spend an hour or 2 talking together at any convention that the 2 of them were attending. One particular year, possibly in Eastbourne, Paul and Pat were talking about a particular effect and Pat mentioned that he had published his own routine in one of his books. After a few more moments of discussion, Pat asked Paul to keep an eye on the stand for a moment. Pat went from behind his table and walked round to another dealer. When he came back, there was a copy of the book in Pat’s hand for Paul. It turns out that Pat did not have any copies of that particular book in stock, so he went to another dealer who did have it in stock, bought a copy and gave it to Paul! Yes, he bought a copy of his own book from another dealer to give to a friend as a present! I know that Paul was very touched by the gesture and I hope he does not mind me telling that wee story.

Pat Page at FFFF in 2007
(Photo courtesy of Robin Dawes)

Mr Page, you will be missed by more magicians and in more ways that you yourself would probably realise or acknowledge. Thank you for everything you have done for magic.

Speak soon

The Cardman :-(