American: The Bill Hicks Story
Some documentaries transform their subject into a sculpted statue; others bring them to life. American: The Bill Hicks Story is certainly the latter, digging through personal photos, family interviews, and previously unseen footage to resurrect one of America's most belatedly appreciated national treasures of stand-up comedy.
Like so many others of my generation, I first heard the voice of Bill Hicks through Ænima, the seminal album by the hard-rock band Tool. What started as a curiosity sparked by a few clips of the late comedian's material quickly became an obsession with the brilliance of this funny man from the dark side. There is not a Hicks album that I do not own, yet there were many gaps in my knowledge about who he was and the events in his life that led him to his unique perspective. American: The Bill Hicks Story shed some much desired light on those lurking shadows to reveal the vulnerable underbelly beneath the aggressive voice in the recordings.
Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas give this film a very personal touch, filling in moments of Hicks's life that weren't caught on videotape with animated photos. The effect is both enlightening and visually amusing, sometimes choreographed in a fittingly comic manner. Hicks's childhood home, his high school, family, friends, and the RV that facilitated his first escape to an open mic are all shown, giving audiences the impression of stepping into his personal photos and witnessing keys moments first-hand. However, the story is not told by animated photos alone, and just as these begin to border on the repetitive, the video footage and live interviews kick in.
The bulk of the interviews comes from people who knew Hicks in his youth and early years as an aspiring comedian, providing audiences with a clear view of Bill before he became the legend he would become and offering some source background for his material. Harlock and Thomas are also wise enough to step back and let Hicks do the speaking for himself through his comedy, which is inevitably hilarious. Anyone specifically interested in Bill Hicks or stand-up comedy in general would be serviced by watching this dedicated documentary, which takes full aim at its target and hits with an exposing bull's eye.
American: The Bill Hicks Story is currently playing at Cinema Village in NYC and opens in Los Angeles theaters on April 15. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.