Friday, April 8, 2011

American - The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

A well done documentary film is the kind that fans with intimate knowledge of the subject matter can appreciate and enjoy, and people completely unfamiliar with the subject matter can come away from wanting to learn more about the subject, and the matter. American - The Bill Hicks Story does just that. An in-depth look from childhood thru his all-too-soon end, the film presents, in a unique way, the man behind some of the most poignant social commentary this country never wanted to see.

American traces Hicks all the way back to his Southern Baptist upbringing, which played a very important role in developing and molding him into who he came to be. All of this is presented in an interesting way. While friends and family members were interviewed for the film, instead of a stagnant, sitting-and-talking-to-the-camera sort of film, their words are spoken over animation of still photographs from the appropriate points in Hicks' existence, bringing to life the stories that are being told. While those stories would be interesting on their own, the animation provides an added level of depth that almost makes you feel like you're there with Hicks as he feels stifled in an overly religious upbringing. You join him on his move out to Los Angeles to seek a greater audience for his comedy at the ripe old age of 19...when he'd already been a veteran of the comedy scene for 5 years. And in one of the film's better sequences, you are there with Hicks and some friends when he trips on hallucinogenic mushrooms and discovers one of the secrets of life.

Although a comedian, Hicks made the impact that he did due to his including messages in his jokes. Like all great comedians, he was an observer of humanity, and his love for humans, no matter how much they would disappoint him, is what drove him to continue to deliver his message throughout his life. The film mixes actual video footage from many gigs spanning nearly his entire career, with some home videos shot by family and friends, as well as the animated still photos. Hicks was also an 'experiencer' of life, and so his well-documented alcohol and drug use is covered, and seeing as how it was a vital part of who he was, it is essential to helping understand him.

American also documents the place and time when Hicks achieved his biggest breakthru while still alive: when a set he did for the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal was filmed and then shown over in England. Hicks was an American who criticized America and many of its ideals, which, needless to say, didn't go over tremendously well with the masses in this country. But elsewhere, where America is viewed with a different perspective, Hicks was viewed as someone well worth listening to, and American devotes a good deal of time examining that. England and the whole of The United Kingdom is where Hicks was able to get his message across to larger groups of people who were more willing to accept his ideas. With the passage of time, people have started to realize just how far ahead Hicks was (and still is), and America is starting to catch up to him now, so the timing of the release of this film is appropriate. It was released in theaters in the UK in 2009, on DVD in the UK in 2010, and is finally getting a US theatrical release starting from April 8 (today) in New York.

There are plenty of extras included on the 2 DVD set, including extended interviews with all of the family and friends in the film, deleted scenes, and early clips culled from comedy club footage of Hicks doing what he does best: commanding a room, trying to get his message across.

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