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Bill Hicks will always be one of my favorite comedians, and to see the man behind the comedy was fascinating. I have a deeper appreciation of the man and his work after seeing this film.
"I thought he was the most intelligent, most liberating social and political comic I had ever heard." - John Cleese
Though he died in 1994, Bill Hicks' reputation has been growing steadily amongst comedians and comedy aficionados. Like Dean, Cobain, Marley, Morrison, Lennon etc, Hicks' death immortalised him, turned him into a hero, a microphone legend for the disillusioned youth of the 1990s.
But to his fans, Hicks was more than an iconoclast. They saw him as prophet, a truth-teller whose message of love, hope, sense and reason lurked closely behind an outer facade of anger and cynicism. Describing himself as "Noam Chomsky with dick jokes", Hicks offered a strange blend of high brow and low brow comedy. He was the Holden Caulfield of stand up, exuding a dangerous and subversive cool. Hicks may once have described humanity as "a virus with shoes", but Hicks was never cynical - just angry and perpetually disappointed, as any compassionate, decent person should be.
But it wasn't only his mixture of intellect and humour that made Hicks popular. Everyone loves an underdog, and Hicks was the ultimate showbiz underdog. With cancelled TV shows, censored television appearances and 12 years in the wilderness working in small clubs and empty bars, he struggled to catch a big break. He was hardworking and adored by fellow comedians, but at a time when American conservatism was at its strongest, homeland audiences simply failed to "get" Hicks' act. Then, just when stardom came knocking, Hicks developed pancreatic cancer. His audience didn't know it, but he was dying, his awareness of his impending death tingeing his later shows with a strange sense of melancholy. To some, Hicks' late shows are the closest stand up's ever come to a kind of spiritual comedy. And then Hicks died.
Over the years, numerous other comedians would borrow from and be influenced by Hicks. George Carlin's entire late career emulates Hicks, though Carlin substitutes apathy and bitter disenchantment for Hicks hopefulness. Lewis Black, Doug Stanhope, Jon Stewart and a bevy of other comedians (including super-hack Denis Leary) would adopt Hicks' trademarks, mannerisms and intonations to great effect. And though dead, Hicks himself would slowly begin to gain fame. VHS bootlegs and late night HBO airings would spread his name, before the internet generation, and the second Gulf War, popped him back into the limelight. Having broken free of what he called "purple veined dick joke material" and developed a more politically and socially aware philosophy over a decade earlier, the now dead Hicks began to appeal to the jaded, twenty first century audiences of Generation Youtube. It also helped that his rants against the first Gulf War and George Bush Senior translated equally well to Gulf War 2 and George Bush 2.
Hicks wasn't political in any complicated, dangerous or sophisticated way, but his scepticism about war, the arms industry, his libertarian view on drugs, his anti-corporate musings, his mocking of the stupid and/or ill-educated, bashing of presidents, love for tobacco etc, were novel on the stand up circuit at the time. Hicks' world-view – we are all energy, money and status are meaningless distractions, authenticity of feeling is paramount, embrace love, not fear – basically made him a hippie disguised as a punk or anarchist. And of course he bashed Rick Astley (of Rick Roll fame) long before anyone else did. Throw in a paedophilic satanic alter ego called Goat Boy, and you had one unique comedian.
Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, "American: The Bill Hicks Story" is an excellent documentary which has the hard task of making Bill's childhood years interesting, and chartering his long, lonely years on the road. The film consists of interviews with Hicks' family, associates and childhood pals, but the dialogue is sculpted such that the film plays less like a documentary and more like a moving 3 act tragedy. Coupled with this is an impressive style which revokes talking heads in favour for an animation technique which brings to life photographs of Hicks and his circle of friends. Aesthetically, I've never seen a documentary look quite like this.
The film touches upon Hicks' childhood, his strict Baptist parents, his early days in comedy clubs, his fondness for Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, the incredibly early age at which he started comedy and his transformation from clean cut comic to ticked off alcoholic. More than this, the films shows why Hicks became the comedians' comedian. He was never sullied by Hollywood success, he was never given the opportunity to sell out, his life was cut short before he got stale and his career coincided with the age of the camcorder, all factors which contributed to his mythologization.
8.9/10 – Whether you find Hicks to be good, great or overrated (he was probably a bit of all three), this remains a sad but entertaining doc. Fans may want to check out "Bill Hicks: Agent Of Evolution" and "American Scream: the Bill Hicks story", two books which to a better job at delving into Hicks' life.
Bill Hicks' comedy has been a godsend in my personal life. Being a native of the Balkan region of former Yugoslavia trying to acclimate to American society without acculturating and losing my identity, his work was invaluable. He has said the things that most people don't even acknowledge or think about.
Bill hicks was an amazing artist and human being on many levels. In particular, on a spiritual and philosophical level, he is easily the most relevant and profound comedian of all time. No other individual has managed to take the unpalatable truths of "modern society" and deliver them with the intellectual poise, sincerity and utter hilarity of Bill Hicks.
He is in our hearts and minds for all eternity, and its a joy to have known his eternal individual nature through his recordings.
May we meet again in the cosmic energy pool of eternity.
Peace, Love & Light,
"It's just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one."
- William Melvin "Bill" Hicks
Happily, this is not the case & the film seems to be both a genuine & sincere homage to the man himself, but also a real attempt to bring something fresh & unseen to fan-boys (such as myself).
The plot is fairly simple - it starts off with his early years & ends with his death from cancer. In the process, they place each of the DVD's in context & show lots of interview clips of fellow comedians, friends & family.
So far, so predictable.
The great thing about this film though is that they have included many, many pieces of unseen footage & have strived to put him in the context of fellow comedians (all of whom are excellent - e.g. Jimmy Pineapple)
The most original contribution that the film maker's have made is to take all the 100's of photos of Bill & turned them into action-stills. A lot of the material by the man is the same, but he always had a gift of being photogenic & hence this factor symbolises the director's efforts to bring something new to the table.
By no means is this film perfect & I have heard some people say 'It's not that good', but not from anyone who's actually seen it.
One thing I can pick out is that there is nothing about his relationships or Girlfriends that were so formative to much of his comedy (e.g. his Fiancé Colleen McGarr).
There is also the fact that the film ends with the 'It's Just a Ride' scene, which is fast becoming cliché (e.g. Zeitgeist).
(Oh, and there is a bit at the end of the film which grates a little, where the screen says something to the effect of 'The Hicks family continue to live in ... & are all remarkably intelligent'. Although they may be, this seems a little bit of an affectation towards them...)
Besides this, there was too much to like about this film. It was really interesting to find out how Mr Hicks used to take mushrooms on a ranch with friends & about his final cancer-ridden days.
I hope that, when the DVD is finally released, it will include full extras of his 'Rant in E-minor'/ 'Arizona Bay' routines but, for now, I really hope that people will flock to buy this DVD. If the evidence of George W Bush is anything to go by, America (& the World) could really do with knowing more about Bill Hicks.
Here's hoping they move onto George Carlin next...
I'll admit, I was never a big fan of his. I thought that other comedians were doing somewhat similar material, and doing it better. So I watched this "documentary" to see if I could learn what I was missing or not "getting" about Hicks.
I'm not sure I was missing anything. This documentary does a fine job of telling you about his origins, and his life and the people he knew. But it does not inform you as to what he believed drove his comedy. It also doesn't discuss the inner demons that he fought or explain why, after working so many years to build a career, he would just walk away from it, just because his act was edited.
His "rants" were not the stuff of Lenny Bruce or George Carlin. His talk of drugs was not as clever as Robin Williams or Sam Kinison. So the viewer is left still not able to understand why people love his comedy.
The film is told thru stop action animation, which is clever at first, but gets old real fast. It is hard to understand who is doing the talking, because actual live faces or names are rarely flashed on the screen.
On the whole, I'm glad I saw the film, but very disappointed with not having any greater insight to the man after having viewed it.
6 out of 10
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.
We are told the story of Bill Hicks right from birth until his death, tragically young, only 32 years later. It's quite fascinating how he started out as a teenager with his friend Dwight Slade, and how they'd sneak out of the house to go and play gigs at a local comedy club. He gains some success and ends up solo when Dwight has to move away and we follow his career through alcoholism, drug abuse and back again. It's only when he cleaned up that he had his greatest successes though. Sadly he never really made it really big in his home country during his lifetime, but he left us with some truly memorable and thought-provoking comedy In my book, a genius.
Rather than just having lots of talking heads in between scenes of Bill on stage, the filmmakers used some photo-animation to illustrate certain parts of the story. This worked very well and served to keep the audience interested in the narrative. Many of his friends and family contribute to the story, which gives this version of events a lot of credence. I found I was not only intrigued by his life story, but also by his comedy. I will certainly be looking at more of the work of Bill Hicks Recommended.
My Score: 8.2/10.
IMDb Score: 7.9/10 (based on 1,716 votes at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82/100 (based on 55 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Comedy itself lost another true hero. Specially nowadays where nothing seems to make any sense in the world, except for the fact that all the ones who dare to understand this humongous, hypocritical world we all live in, suddenly, out of the blue, they all leave.
The documentary is somewhat superficial, nonetheless, very important, because it shows how everything started for Bill Hicks, and there is great archive footage of his early stand-ups. It also makes one feel very interested particularly in his great come back moment, after he gave up drugs and alcohol, and as far as what made him become the Bill Hicks that conquered the UK unfortunately little was said about this period in the movie.
The final scenes are Hicks' best moments. And after the late George Carlin there was nobody else who could have filled his shoes and enlightened audiences with greater political insights such as Bill.
So, a must see, but not as informative, nor as edgy as it could have been.
My vote is 8
Dropping out of school and chasing the dream in LA, Hicks struggles with failure and fitting in with what the world expects of his humour. Falling into patterns of drug abuse and alcoholism, his comedy mirrored an outlook on life that was not mainstream. He was cynical, he was rash and he was jarring, and for all those reasons, he was an acquired taste. His anti-American routines particularly did not bode well for his career; in an industry where shock is now the norm, Hicks was ahead of his time, but that was to prove little consolation.
Eventually, ousting himself from the cycle of rejection and abuse, Hicks winds up in New York where he gets himself clean and his magical touch returns. Though he never sacrifices his right to say and joke about whatever he wishes (and highlights from various gigs are used as proof of this), in doing so he pushes back against the mainstream tide that flirts with but never embraces him. Diagnosed with cancer in his early 30s, Hicks never receives the true acceptance of the American audience that he perhaps craved, but he died in the knowledge that he stuck to certain values that never let him compromise what he believed in to merely give audiences what they wanted to hear. Many would argue that, in itself, that is a very American value.
Harlock and Thomas' film joins the growing collection of posthumous albums and features that have attempted to reclaim Hicks' image, to wonderful effect. Whether it is guilt for ignoring him whilst alive, America has finally embraced the humour of a man whose only really fame was an ocean away in the United Kingdom. As only a proud American could care enough to write the jokes about the fatherland that Hicks managed, his emotional emigration to the British Isles is as tragic personally as it was a highlight professionally.
If the documentary has a flaw, it is that Hicks wasn't around to truly finish it. This is a half-finished documentary because it was a half-finished life.
Concluding Thought: As a resident of the UK, the portrayal of Hick's success in the British Isles being down to his anti-Americanism is somewhat simplistic. The UK has a wonderful tradition of supporting comedians regardless of background or content, purely because they make them laugh.
The outline of the documentary:
The film chronologically looks at the life and career of American comedian Bill Hicks.It is shown how Hicks started out as being a comedian inspired by Woody Allens performance in Casino Royal!.To,completely transforming his stand-up into some of the most personal performances that a comedian has done in the last twenty years.A over-view of Hicks stand-up act and life is shown with an almost unprecedented amount of never seen before footage of Bills earliest shows,to a huge number of photos which are "animated to illustrate particular moments in Bill Hicks life. View on the film:
As the film started,I felt very nervous that the only footage of Bill that would be used in the film, would be of his latter performances which are always used for footage when Hicks is ever mentioned on TV.Smartly,directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas (who both also produced the film and also did the "animation" footage with Graham Smith) decide to mainly focus on the very little seen early days of Hicks stand-up.This is done by cleverly using never-seen before photos from the family library,and impressively animating them to make them look very "bold".And for the video tapes, that are well-over thirty years old,the picture and audio is in shockingly excellent quality.The only slight disappointment that I had with this fantastic film,was that there is no interview or mention of Bill Hicks manager (who he was also engaged to.)
Final view on the film:
A stunningly made film with unforgettable images and videos of one of the greatest comedians of the last twenty years.
See it and learn something.
Your father didn't die for a flag. He died for the symbol that the flag represented, which is the freedom to burn the flag. -Hicks
I just felt it could have been done better but you do get to know "the guy". IMDb requires ten lines of text for a review so I will have to fluff this review with garbage in order to have this review be approved. Are we there yet?
To me, this fails as a documentary, it is purely a fan piece. If you love Bill Hicks now, then this will make you love him more. If you are not a fan, then this will make you avoid his work as much as possible. From what I know, Bill was a very thoughtful and talented person, it's too bad someone as thoughtful as him didn't make the film about him.
In the first official documentary feature about his life, American is a stylish and moving experience that charts Hicks' physical and spiritual journey through the stand-up circuit, both off stage and on; his quest for success that would transform him from one of the brightest young talents in stand-up to the ranting, renegade genius whose mind-opening material went beyond comedy and changed it forever.
Made with the full cooperation of Hicks' family and friends, novice directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have crafted an essential look into one of the most devalued and influential figures of the modern age whose unsung words of rage and wisdom still ring true over a decade on from his untimely death.
Though frank and sometimes vicious in his observations of American life and politics, Hicks is portrayed as a hopeless romantic; the ultimate patriot who believed in a better world. His was the voice his country needed, just not the one it wanted. Such was his domestic anonymity that the bulk of his praise ultimately came from the British public and media who, in the early 1990's, championed his hilarious, homespun satire and antisocial cynicism. What's not to like about taking the mickey out of Americans? The film's finale (an exert from one of his UK shows) is a heartfelt meditation on war and peace that defined what the man was all about, though. Hicks never hated his homeland, he just feared what it had become and thought it could do better.
There's more to this documentary than Hicks' fascinating work and ideals, though. A level of cohesion and humanity is found in the film's attention to detail regarding Hicks' estranged personal life; from his alcoholism and regular drug use to his lone life on the road and fatal date with pancreatic cancer. Hicks was also a talented musician and poet whose memoirs and music feature throughout the film in addition to oodles of unseen archival footage and stills from his shows and youth.
Despite a slow and sometimes repetitive opening, Harlock and Thomas' off-the-wall documentary is a fresh and thoughtful biopic; an honest and psychedelic fusion of art and artistry that lays bare the heart and soul of an idealist who, if he had lived, may have staged a revolution. Hicks told the truth about the way he saw the world and did so with such humour, such clarity and candour that it riled a lot of people. He inspired a whole lot more, though. His influence on stand-up comedy and comedy, in general, are there for all to see. Bill Hicks achieved something only terrifying artists do- he told us; this is how we live now. American is the quintessential portrait of his life. Unmissable.
Coming from a country famous for making an institution out of stand up comedy, for many an insincere route to bigger things, Bill Hicks is certainly a name that stands out in many 'best jokes ever' polls over here, despite being, interestingly, American, where people are known to be a little more sensitive. And, it would seem he got his big break over here, his true talent and potential not being explored in his native country enough, where he either caused too much offence or was simply a misunderstood genius. Basically, the guy has a massive cult following that has continued many years after his death and this documentary attempts to cast light on his life and times, without reflecting too much on the influence he still has today.
Hicks didn't seem to let how much he was far away from where he went to become famous stand in his way at all, chasing his small town boy dream with all the confidence and gusto of a tornado, a character possessed by a dynamic mind that refused to be restrained who, like the best of anyone, ended up living fast and dying young. People are appreciated more in death, for sure, but it's undeniably often the case that people with an unquestionable talent in whatever medium they are in can be taken away in their prime, and it's definitely sad to see all that potential and talent taken away.
This is a sincere, honest, insightful, revealing and well made enough expose of Hicks, opening up his unique observations and comedy stylings to a new generation of viewers. ***
I never liked Bill Hicks. There's a reason he was much bigger in the UK. His humor doesn't work here. And the people overseas somehow thinks he's a snapshot of American joke telling. He wasn't. He reminded me a bit of Sam Kinison who was way funnier and much more on the edge.
This docu-movie is way boring. The subject matter is not a genius but we are forced to sit through so much talkie dialog about how special he was. Who cares? He didn't make a difference in life. Few people even know who he is.
The definition of greatness is someone who stands the test of time. Pryor, Carlin. These people will be remembered. Bill Hicks will not. What's his name again?
The interviews with Bill's family revealed how much love and affection he received from them. In my opinion, this environment along with his talent and experience led him to become one of the best stand-up comedians of all times.
I found it great how this movie has been made as a mixture of archive footage and simple animation with voice-over of the interviewees. However, i felt that his approach might turn-off the average viewer, as well.
If anyone has not yet experienced any of Mr. Hick's incredibly funny, artistic and sometimes groundbreaking performances, expressing his ideas, opinions and beliefs through the medium of Stand Up comedy then (unless you are from another planet...) I would have to ask; "where have you been and what exactly have you been doing with your life??.."
Although this was pretty well made and mostly interesting it is more a homage by his family and closest friends about his upbringing and his life from their point of view, not a detailed dissection of all his work and media appearances. It is also, perhaps, just a final gesture to the many fans to maybe set the record straight on a couple of minor details and to publicize his life again for a new generation of fans... Which, in an age of misinformation, illegal wars and rapid global change is, I think personally, very very important.
It fails miserably however to really express just how great this man is and why he is revered by many as a genius and by most, not least his peers, as one of 'the' (sadly)rare and truly important artists in the relatively short history of the form. To be this is really a companion piece to the live recordings and the various other media floating around in the virtual ether.
I gave it 8 out of ten just for the possibility that it will encourage some new fans to watch his stand up, learn about him and hopefully, more about the world around them in a humorous way.
To me he still is a truly genuine human being in a world full of fake, fallacy and fear.
An inspiration to anyone who believes in logic, reason, individuality, equality, the freedom to choose and that love is about the human race as one.