« The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans | Filmstalker | Whip It »


American: The Bill Hicks Story

Film Five Stars
I knew little of Bill Hicks or this film before going to watch it, but here are the reasons why it took my attention at the Glasgow Film Festival. The first was that I remember seeing the end of the Revelation British tour some time ago, and it stuck with me how philosophical and so forthright his comedy was.

Then there was what I heard about the film, made with animated photos from his life, and telling the story through the interviews with the ten people who knew him the best, closest friends and his family.

With the single act of his I'd seen having such a lasting impact on me and the style that the film blurb promised, I knew I was going to see this film.

Plot.pngBill Hicks began his comedy life at a really early age, at a mere fifteen he was playing Houston comedy clubs with names that were to become great comics of their own. They were much older though and were surprised at his act.

His comedy evolved, becoming much stronger and a little more bitter, and his fame grew too. He had a great natural talent, and people took to him.

However the introduction of alcohol into his life caused his comedy routine to become more and more bitter and angrier, and soon clubs were unwilling to hire him.

It took a revelation on his own to stop drinking, turn around his life and career, and find the true comedy of Bill Hicks.

Even then America never recognised his talent, and it was the UK that gave him his greatest reception.

The film looks at the life of Bill Hicks using the extensive catalogue of photography of the man, his friends, and his family, to build on their interviews about their time with him. With some live footage added, American: The Bill Hicks Story produces the story of his life.

TheFilm.pngLooking back on this film that I was lucky enough to see at the Glasgow Film Festival, there were a number of things that clearly stood out and defined the film for me.

The first was that it didn't look at one side of Bill Hicks, it didn't just pick the darker sections or the more controversial sections, or just look at the American side of Bill Hicks. If you want a complete story of the man, this is the one, for it seems to cover everything in the limited time it's on, something I found rather amazing.

You see documentaries and films about people all the time, and if you know something about their life, or you do a little research, you find some aspect of them or their lives that isn't covered, and I mean something very relevant and important to them and who they were. There always seems to be an agenda or a slant to the film that ensures just what is needed is shown.

Not so with American: The Bill Hicks Story. This is one of the few documentaries that you feel a well balanced and presented view of the person, and the result is that you get drawn towards their story and their life much more than with other biographical films.

Of course it also just so happens that Bill Hicks' story is one that captures the heart and the imagination, in particular the heart. From the early days when you see him becoming a comedian at school and his first stage appearances there's something that happens, there's a fondness and you connect with the character very easily.

This also happens very easily because of who is telling the story, it's not a writer who has interpreted the story and is crafting it into a start, middle and end story, it comes from the people who knew Bill Hicks the closest, the ten people who knew the boy, the man and the comedian through the good and bad times, and the people who can tell his story better than anyone, perhaps better than the man himself.

They also tell their stories very openly and honestly, something that can sometimes prove a little surprising but also deliver some wonderful insights.

Throughout the film there's that sense that you are watching the life of a friend or someone that you have great affection for being told, and it is fair to say that although I'd seen his UK show on video, I'd never really been a huge fan I only knew the one performances. Yet that feeling is one of the driving forces behind the film and the story, it manages so successfully to connect you with Bill Hicks on an emotional level, right from the beginning.

Another aspect of the film that really endeared itself to me was the style of the film, something that I think helped greatly in the emotional connection to the story. The photo-animations gave me a feeling of my youth, of watching something with a lot more innocence, filled with youthful exuberance.

Coupling this style with some of the stories coming from the friends of Hicks really manages to connect you directly with the character and you really feel part of their stories and adventures.

It is a fantastic way to portray his life, although it isn't all just photo-animation, there are some talking head interviews and plenty of actual footage of Bill Hicks on stage doing what he does best, performing.

Something else I particularly remember was the music, and that stayed with me throughout. There's a lovely score that compliments the film well.

However let's not detract from the story either, Hicks' story and the way he developed as a comedian and found his honest and frank comedy through drink and the lowest point of his career, was a wonderful journey for film. A rising star so young who self destructed, sobered up and reinvented himself. When his life hits the high points once more, being recognised in the UK as a huge talent, and then being ignored when he returned to the US, you really feel for the character.

However it's the ending that brings the biggest emotional hit, and together it provides an emotional journey that so many Hollywood films are lacking by the tonne.

Overall.pngAmerican: The Bill Hicks Story is a great film. It's funny, sad, an incredibly powerful moral filled film, and it does pack an emotional punch that can't be ignored. It's just streets ahead of so many other films, biographical or not, and really does deserve a huge audience.

The philosophical comedy of Bill Hicks has never died, and with this film it could well find a new audience, it definitely found me.

Beautifully filmed, wonderfully retold, lovingly presented, and filled with wonderful messages which relate to each and every one of us, The Bill Hicks story is a film for everyone and the bonus is that we'll never forget the great comedian.

Buy from or
UK IMDB Film Details




Site Navigation

Latest Stories


Latest Reviews


Filmstalker Poll


Subscribe with...

Site Feeds

Subscribe to Filmstalker:

All articles

Reviews only

Audiocasts only

Subscribe to the Filmstalker Audiocast on iTunesAudiocasts on iTunes



Help Out

Site Information

Creative Commons License
© filmstalker.co.uk

Give credit to your sources. Quote and credit, don't steal

Movable Type 3.34