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Perfect combination of biography and live performances
I am an enormous Bill Hicks fan. Obsessively so. I think I have all the bootlegged concerts on my computer, and a DVD of rariety camcorder shows as well as enough official CDs and DVDs that I have basically all his material available in one form or another. I also have about three books - two biographies and a book of transcripts and scripts and other writings. So that's the background I took into this documentary.
First of all, it's a beautiful film to look at. There's the usual audio history going on in the background, but what the directors have done is taken still photographs and created pseudo-animated sequences to support the narrative. It's odd at first, but very quickly you stop even noticing that the still faces aren't moving in their animated environment. Very clever.
Secondly, where has all this new footage come from? There are several camcorder recordings which must go back as far as the early 1980s that I have never seen before. There's some bits (about his father) which I'd never heard before which were used to accompany the section on his early shows. I don't think they are quite as old as that (he looks a bit older than 16) but it's not far off. Some of these early clips also show later material in an earlier form - like the fantasy about the grotesque death of woman that broke his heart seeing him on the Tonight Show as she breathed her last.
The best thing about the film, however, is they way everything is brought back to the comedy. With enough reading, you'd already know about the drug stories and the depths of his alcohol abuse and his tragic early death from pancreatic cancer. While all of these are important parts of the story, no-one dwells on the more sensational details, but instead uses them in partnership with recordings to show how they motivated what he was doing on stage. There's clips to show him drinking excessively on stage, clips about his growing dislike of governments (including from Hicks and Kevin Booth's trip to Waco in 1993), clips contrasting his rapturous reception in the UK (the huge rock and roll entrance of the Revelations show at the Dominion theatre) adjacent to the small audiences ("staring blankly back at me like a dog that had been shown a card trick") of a backwater comedy club in the US South. I like this because it feels like the best use of the documentary medium, and gives fresh insight into a topic I (and many other fans) already know well. I mean, I can read and re-read an autobiography of his life but only in a film can I really see the effect on his work. Very much recommended, for disciples and neophytes alike.
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