American: The Bill Hicks Story (Blu-ray)
I chose to review AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY because I had heard so much about the comedian that I figured this would be a good way to get his whole story. Several of my friends online had posted clips from his stand-up and at times had photos of Hicks as their profile pics. Hicks was even on one of my Tool albums “Ænima” and I never knew the entire time. At one time I kept hearing people say that Denis Leary had basically stole Hicks’ act for “No Cure for Cancer”. I didn’t want to believe it being a huge fan of Leary’s but after seeing the story unfold in AMERICAN, it was hard to shrug off. Bill was someone you couldn’t shrug off either. His act was bold, truthful, hilarious and groundbreaking while he was alive. Like most legends, it took the general public until after his death to really grasp his magnitude.
Bill Hicks didn’t go completely unnoticed though. The film proves that he had tons of people who loved and admired him, be that family, friends, or fans. Those were the people who really breathed life into the memory of Hicks to show what a presence the comedian was. Each person that was interviewed about Hicks was genuine and truly appreciated what he brought to the comedy scene. Hicks was more than just a comedian, he was a man who was honest about the world.
This documentary steers clear of shallow waters and tries to delve as deep into Hicks’ life as possible. As someone who didn’t know very much about Hicks, I definitely got well acquainted with him. The film starts with his early days and gets into the darker times when Hicks was drunk out of his mind. Instead of just delivering the same old documentary shtick, AMERICAN does Hicks justice by unfolding his life and career in a more creative way. In addition to photos of the comedian, there are also animated sequences that make his life shine even more brightly.
There’s plenty of on-stage footage of Hicks’ routines. Some of it might be more familiar to hardcore fans of the comedian, while other footage is pulled from the archives. The older material brings Hicks routine full circle and shows the true scope of what he was about. Although he was gritty like George Carlin, all Hicks wanted to do was make people laugh. The things he would say were often controversial, blurring the single boundary that few rarely tend to cross. Hicks made jokes about Hitler, conspiracy theories, and suicide but his heart really was in the right place.
It’s sad that Hicks passed away at the age of 32 due to pancreatic cancer. Seventeen years have gone by since he graced a stage with his larger than life personality. There was no one like Hicks. There were imitators and those who were influenced by his style, but never was there a single person exactly like him. Just like a favorite song, Hicks will always make you smile and you will remember his message for the rest of your days. His last words echo that sentiment, “I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”
Video: There’s a balance of good and bad here. The only bad comes from the old footage of Hicks, which seems like it’s been through the depths and back. The rest of the film is clear, crisp, and wonderful. (1.78:1 Widescreen).
Audio: For the most part the audio is fine. It’s not much for those wanting to enjoy this in surround sound, but it does the job. Again, the old footage is the only part that takes away from an otherwise enjoyable experience. (5.1 DTS-HD).
Rare Clips (30:00): Unseen and rarely seen material from various Hicks’ stand-ups. Some really hilarious moments in this one.
Extended Interviews (3:00:00): If you want to know more about the life of Hicks then this is the featurette for you. There are several extensive interviews with loved ones, family, and friends. Worried about repeat information? Well, you aren’t going to get it here. There’s fresh perspectives and new info provided by each person. The scope of conversation covers Hicks youth to his admiring fans in England.
Bill’s Personal Audio Journals (35:00): There was something haunting about listening to the personal thoughts and feelings of Hicks. While I think these were things he would discuss with his audience, I also felt like I had my ear against the wall eavesdropping on sincere moments.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (5:00): Really short snippets of stuff that was unused in the documentary. Nothing here really stood out, so it was easy to see why it was cut.
Alternate Animation Sequences (3:00): Some neat animated sequences that were not used in the film.
Trailers and Audience Reaction (6:00): Theatrical trailers for the film as well as a trailer that focuses on the reaction of the audience watching the documentary. Makes me wish I would have seen it in a theater.
Austin SXSW Panel with Bill’s Friends (10:00): Matt Harlock, David Johndrow, John Farneti, and James Ladmirault take part in the panel for Hicks at Austin’s South By Southwest Festival. The guys laugh and tell stories about Hicks and explain why his comedy got through to so many people.
Dominion Tour (8:00): The producers and directors, Chris Bould and Charles Brand, who were behind Hicks’ Revelations show are interviewed here. Hicks’ family also give insight to the tour and its conception.
Festivals in the UK and US with Hicks (15:00): This is a behind the scenes of sorts with Hicks’ family and the filmmakers. This featurette follows the path of the film through festivals providing more interviews and insight.
Bill’s Family Visit Abbey Road (4:00): While I’ve never seen Abbey Road in real life, I have seen it several times on “Sessions at Abbey Road”. Here the family goes to the famous spot for the first time taking some of Bill’s recordings with them to be remastered.
UK 15th Anniversary Tribute (8:00): A tribute to Hicks in England shows clips and footage from the comedian’s routines.
Comedy School (19:00): Ever want to learn some of the tricks of the trade on being a comedian? Get it here from Dwight Slade and James Ladmirault. There’s a bit of repeat info, but interesting nonetheless.
Dwight in London (6:00): An interview with Dwight Slade on the differences in comedy between the US and UK.
Making of Arizona Bay (19:00): A must watch feature with Kevin Booth discussing Hicks’ comedy album as well as some home video footage. Another gem of insight on the comedian here.
The Ranch (8:00): A great short featurette of Booth letting the viewer into Hicks’ life. We are taken to Booth’s ranch where the two would do mushrooms and hear some pretty great details.