Here’s the official synopsis:
American: The Bill Hicks Story brings to life the amazing true story of one of modern culture’s most iconic figures. Much more than just a comedian, Bill Hicks has become an inspiration to millions around the world. As a rebellious teenager, he discovered that comedy was a way to break all the rules, but then he found it could also open people’s minds. Bill’s comedy challenged the injustices of life head on, but his uncompromising approach met with conflict in America and it was instead on the international stage where he found fame. In 1993, on the verge of wider success, Bill fell ill with terminal cancer, but his timeless material has lived on, revered by comedians and audiences alike as the man who changed comedy forever. Taking documentary to a new level, American uses interviews, archive footage including many unseen performances, and stunning animation to bring Bill’s inspiring story to life, told for the first time by those that knew him best.
Directed by: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
When I first got this blu-ray in my hand, I have to admit that my first reaction was, “Who?” Admittedly, his death was about 15 years ago and at the time of his biggest popularity and controversy I was simply too young to have noticed him.
Coming from that, I actually went into this documentary totally unaware of what to expect, and completely fresh. I am so glad that I watched it though. Even if you’re like me and no nothing of the controversial comic, the documentary takes you through most of the major events of his life. So like any great documentary, you’ll actually come away from this movie having learned something.
Even if you are a fan of Bill Hicks, there are so many tidbits of information and little know interviews spliced in here, that I’m sure there will be surprises for everyone. Part of me wonders though, how much more I would have appreciated the story if I were a fan. In all honesty, Bill Hicks has a ‘cult’ following and passed away before he could reach the iconic status of other more well-known comedians.
So in that way, there are times during the documentary where I found myself thinking “so what?” Where if I had been aware of the man before, I might have cared just a little bit. For the diehard fans though, I’m sure those moments are far more interesting.
But the thing that was most exciting to me on this film…was the style they did it in. Rather than going for the standard floating heads commonly used in documentaries, the filmmakers tried something radically different. Instead they used still frames (pictures from Bill Hicks’ life, and a few I’m sure they created) and animated them. It sounds odd I know but watch the trailer and you’ll get a good idea of how it works. Then various people who knew the comedian do their voiceovers on top of the animated pics.
Of course actual footage from Hicks’ many performances are used as well, but overall this new style gave it a far more dramatic and narrative feel to the documentary. This is great for people who don’t normally like sitting through docs and can view it in a different way. It was a surprising, but incredibly welcome filmmaking style, that I hope to see again.
The blu-ray looks good, and the animation the used looks crisp and clean on this transfer. Definitely no complaints on that end.
This is a great documentary and even people who aren’t fans of Bill Hicks’ controversial comic routines (or didn’t even know who he was) should find themselves engaged in this story. At the very least, it’s intriguing to see how well they’ve pulled off their animated still frame style.
American: The Bill Hicks Story gets a 8 out of 10.
This title was released earlier this week (June 7th) and is available for your viewing pleasure. You can purchase your copy over at BBC’s American Shop or find it on store shelves.