AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY – The Review
AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY is a documentary along the lines of RICHARD PRYOR: I AIN’T DEAD YET, #*%$#@!! or SAM KINISON: WHY DID WE LAUGH? All three films take a look at great comics, travelling back in time to try and better understand the life of the artist, what made them tick and why their brand of humor was so well received by audiences.
Bill Hicks was just a kid from Houston who, like so many teenagers, felt the need to rebel and do something different. So, instead of going to college like the rest of his family, Hicks knew at an early age he wanted to be a comedian. His career started at the tender age of 15 when he performed with popularity at a comedy club in Houston, Texas.
Before long, Bill Hicks found himself becoming a potential star, but that’s also about the time drugs and alcohol began taking over his life. AMERICAN spends a great deal of time digging into this portion of Hicks’ life. The effects, both good and bad, that the drugs and alcohol had on his personal and professional development are clearly illustrated with archival video of his performances, often in small clubs.
AMERICAN has an underlying theme of one man against the world, trying to find a way for his voice to be heard amidst the crowd of ignorant people; people he often called out on stage. Bill Hicks was more than a comedian; he was also a messenger to the masses, saying “Wake up!”
The documentary is fairly straight forward, lots of archival footage, interviews with friends, family and colleagues. The one stylistic element that directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas incorporated was a sort of digital cut-out form of flash animation to illustrate certain segues in Hicks’ life. This is a nice, non-intrusive touch that breaks the film up just enough to keep the pace comfortable.
Much like his routine, this documentary will challenge some viewers, asking you not to be offended and, if you are, then you probably needed to be offended. Bill Hicks was adamant, obsessed even, with that state of “freedom” in our country and how we’re losing that freedom to corporations. His act routinely focused on this theme, as well as the hypocrisies and shortcomings of our society.
AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY is a fascinating look into the life of an American comedian whose was never fully embraced by America. The film is both a comedy and a tragedy, as Bill Hicks’ life ended as in a way and at a time that was both cruel and ironic. Despite his early departure, the most fascinating thing about Bill Hicks is how he chose to go out, which says so much.