Of all the books and films I have devoured on Bill Hicks there is no doubt that American: The Bill Hicks Story is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative. What makes it so is that it’s narrated by his closest friends and family members.
The film delves into his comedy roots which started at a mere 15 years of age, the people he created his art with and follows his career in small clubs through to his breakthrough in England and his last tours in the US. And of course his tragic death from cancer. The only thing that was missing was any input from his girlfriends or any mention of any (he did have a fiancée).
The most interesting interviews are those with his best friend Dwight whom Bill started his comedy act with. Stories of rebellious teens sneaking out to go and perform comedy are golden and most importantly unheard. There’s also some tales about mushroom trips at a ranch the friends frequented. The archive footage is awesome, there’s clips of Hicks performing when he was just a baby, he’s so clean cut and his style is so different, but you can see his voice forming.
What I dug about his background is that his formative years are actually interesting. Sometimes its a bore to have to listen to or read about someone’s background. Comedy was in Bill at such a young age that the facts go from “born here, raised by, friends with” and then it’s straight to the good stuff, much like Andy Kaufman he was born to do comedy and knew it at a young age.
The film also utilizes a really neat method of telling the story. The directors went and captured images of different areas Bill lived in, hung around at and have used photographs of Bill (and his friends, family) to put them in the scenes and try and recreate events. It’s sort of a Tom Goes To The Mayor style but without the spazz-y movements and photoshop effects. It’s far more appealing than talking heads or unrelated stock footage and works well.
If you’re expecting a cash-in film this is not it. The film took three years to make and is crafted with love and respect, the Hicks’ family were also very involved in the film, thus ensuring a high standard.
There’s a whole assortment of extras here which makes this DVD release even more appealing if you’re into the extras thing.
- Austin Panel and SXSW (10 mins) – Interview with Steve Hicks and various comedians, they discuss meeting Bill and the first time they saw him perform.
- Dominion Tour (8mins) – The Hicks family travel to London and reminisce with director/producer of the Revelations performance. A neat short that focuses on the concept of the show.
- Festivals in the UK and USA with the Hicks’ (14 mins) – A bit of a filler extra, this one consists of Mary (Bill’s mother) and his siblings Lynn and Steven at various film festivals including London, Austin and Toronto.
- Hicks and Abbey Road studios ( 4 mins) – The Hicks family found some cassette recordings Bill had made and while they were in London they took the tapes to Abbey Road to have them remastered.
- Kevin Shoots His Film in LA (4 mins) – A little segment on Kevin’s (one of Bill’s friends) film about the war on drugs.
- 15th Anniversary Tribute (8mins) – A clip of the Hicks family attending the 15th anniversary tribute of Bill’s performance in London.
- Comedy School (18 mins) – Bill’s friend Dwight gives his thoughts on comedy.
- Dwight in London (5 mins) – Clips of Dwight’s stand-up and of him discussing the difference between UK and US audiences
- Making of Arizona Bay (7 mins) – Footage of Bill making the album.
- The Ranch (7 mins) – Clips of Kevin Booth showing us around the ranch where they used to take trips and relax.
As if that weren’t enough already, there’s also 7 minutes of deleted scenes, 8 minutes of early and alternative scenes, 15 minutes of early and rare clips of Bill’s stand-up and three decent audio clips of Bill. This release also features subtitles for the hard of hearing and has reversible cover art.
Another excellent release from Madman. A must see for those who have never heard of Hicks and a must own for those who have.
American: The Bill Hicks Story is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.