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American: The Bill Hicks Story (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 17

American: The Bill Hicks Story

American: The Bill Hicks Story


Featuring Dwight Slade, Mary Hicks, Lynn Hicks, Steve Hicks, Kevin Booth, David Johndrow, James Ladmirault, John Farneti, Andy Huggins and archival footage of Bill Hicks.

Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas.

Distributed by Variance Films.  102 minutes.  Not Rated.

Bill Hicks never received the fame that he undoubtedly deserved, however in stand-up comedy circles and amongst a staunch cult following, he was considered as talented and influential as Lenny Bruce.  Now, seventeen years after his way-too-soon death (of pancreatic cancer at age 32 in 1994), Hicks is legendary amongst those in the know, but mostly forgotten by the general public.

American: The Bill Hicks Story is a British documentary which sets out to change that.

It is only partially successful in showing what an extraordinary standup Hicks could be, but it does a terrific job of giving an overview of his life.

Giving a varied timeline from high school loser to aspiring screenwriter to respected comedian, American uses footage, family photos and talking head material from friends, relatives, fans, collaborators and contemporaries.

The film shows how experience, growth, political awareness and, frankly, drug use helped to graduate the guy from a pretty standard observational comic into someone whose reach was much more peculiar and pointed.  As Hicks mind expanded he took the audience along for the trip, in ways that were often fascinating, but more than occasionally became a bit of a train wreck.

One thing not acknowledged here, but is apparent in the clips, is that in his last years, as his stand-up became more topical and pointed, it also became less funny.  Much like Bruce before him, towards the end he was raging against the machine, but it seemed more like a sermon than a comic riff.  There is no doubt that he was passionate about what he was saying, he was no longer focusing on making it humorous.

However, that is part of Hicks’ story too and if the film may be a tiny bit to in awe of their subject to actually say it, they inadvertently (or perhaps not inadvertently) show that fact.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: June 6, 2011.


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