on 18 March 2011
It really is ironic, that in this day and age, when any vapid cretin can fill the airwaves with nothing in pin sharp HD clarity, we are left scrabbling around for grainy footage of Bill Hicks! I think he would appreciate the irony! For the lucky Brits (like myself) who embraced Bill from the off, there's not really any new ground covered, I've absorbed DVD's CD's and Books whenever and wherever possible, but that's not to say I don't wan to sit and watch "American" it's very well made, lovingly so, it's the extra's that will do it for me, and just knowing that, finally, the world is catching up.
I was lucky enough to see Bill on a UK tour in the early 90's, coming on stage to 'Enter Sandman" by Metallica, then proceeding to excite, thrill, and scare us in equal measure! he was nothing less than mesmerizing, and I've championed him ever since, to anyone and everyone, and it gladdens my heart to see that he's getting some recognition, finally in the mainstream.
If Bill were alive today, he'd have a field day with the state of the world.... I mean, 2 George Bush's...!!!!
The Legend lives on! Bill Hicks, gone but never forgotten.
on 22 October 2010
An absolutely great documentary looking back at the life of the Late Great William Melvin "Bill" Hicks. Explaining how and why he got into comedy, the evolution of his act and the influences of his friends, locations and experiences.
The image quality of the new material is excellent - and where the source was good enough the archive footage has scrubbed up well.
On the extras disc there is a little flaw - you want to watch all the rare footage - and there's no "Play all" feature - and annoyingly - after each one the menu system resets back to the root - and you have to navigate back to each one...
But aparat from that - a worthy addition to any Hicks fan's collection.
I approached this film half expecting a cash-in, as Bill Hicks' legacy seems to have become a lucrative commodity for some (e.g. 2003's Shock & Awe).
Happily, this is not the case & the film seems to be both a genuine and sincere homage to the man himself, but also a real attempt to bring something fresh & unseen to fan-boys (such as myself).
The plot is fairly simple - it starts off with his early years and ends with his death from cancer. In the process, they place each of the DVD's and CD's in context & show lots of interview clips of fellow comedians, friends & family.
So far, so predictable.
The great thing about this film though is that they have included many, many pieces of unseen footage & have strived to put him in the context of fellow comedians (all of whom are excellent - e.g. Jimmy Pineapple (esp the 'I am 'it'' routine))
The most original contribution that the film maker's have made is to take all the 100's of photos of Bill & turned them into action-stills. A lot of the material by the man is the same, but he always had a gift of being photogenic and hence this factor symbolises the director's efforts to bring something new to the table.
By no means is this film perfect & I have heard some people say 'It's not that good', but not from anyone who's actually seen it.
One thing I can pick out is that there is nothing about his relationships or Girlfriends that were so formative to much of his comedy (e.g. his Fiance Colleen McGarr).
There is also the fact that the film ends with the 'It's Just a Ride' scene, which is fast becoming cliche (e.g. Zeitgeist).
(Oh, and there is a bit at the end of the film which grates a little, where the screen says something to the effect of 'The Hicks family continue to live in ... and are all remarkably intelligent'. Although they may be, this seems a little bit of an affectation towards them...)*
Besides this, there was too much to like about this film (plus I am totally biased - see profile). It was really interesting to find out how Mr Hicks used to take mushrooms on a ranch with friends & about his final cancer-ridden days.
There is also an amazing moment in the middle of the film, where one of the commentators says something to the effect that "Great Stand-up comedy is where the inner voice matches the outer one" & Bill seems transformed thereafter into Prophet more than Comedian (rather like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey).
A word or two about the extras. When I initially wrote this review (based on just the film), I speculated that it may "include full extras of his Rant in E-Minor/Arizona Bay routines". At the time of writing, I was not aware that the Estate were planning to release The Essential Collection (2CD+2DVD) (which includes the routines that were the raw material for both those albums, among other routines).
As a result, this DVD does not contain those routines but instead has a total of 5 hours of material, such as footage of his lesser seen performances and (best of all) 3 hours of Extended interviews.
Not only are these interviews edited and sorted into stages (with people like Kevin Booth, Dwight Slade, Jimmy Pineapple & his remaining family commenting on each part), but they are also SO different to the film that they almost make a whole new film!
All manner of richly interesting material (and not just leftovers) makes it in (including intriguing gambits such as how his final words 'I left in Love, Laughter & Truth' were in fact inspired by one of Hicks' favorite books - The Grapes of Wrath).
And there are are also a myriad of other details including a really eerie piece of 'synchrony' about his time of death (9:20pm EST), stories about his meeting Richard Pryor & Robin Williams AND the truth about what happened with his Dad & the Magic Mushrooms.
Truly, it is worth getting both DVD's, just to see both halves of the interviews.
On top of the interviews, there is 2 hours of other material; the best bits being the rare clips (including some clips from 'The Outlaws get Religion'), the 'Comedy school' (with Jimmy Pineapple & Dwight Slade, about what stand-up is like & how Bill got as good as he did) and also some material with Kevin Booth about the making of 'Arizona Bay' & the Ranch they took mushrooms on.
As a general rule, the best stuff is the interviews with people who knew Bill (especially his aforementioned friends, but also his photographer David Johndrow and his brother Steve Hicks). The unreleased material is worth seeing, although most of the making-of stuff, trailers etc are fairly standard.
Although some of the later extras go overboard on detail (it took me a week of evening viewings to get through the film & all the extras), the special features do stay within the bounds of the subject and it's clear that the film-makers have gone to great pains not to duplicate material between here & the other releases.
So, overall, this DVD is well worth getting. If you know nothing about the man, then this is a good place to start, as the film includes snippets of all his material & many of his best routines are peppered throughout the film.
If you're a geeky fan-boy on the other hand, then this film is also great as it fills in the gaps of his story (including the formative influence of alcohol on him) and also provides a host of unseen material.
It is my fervent hope that Bill would go onto influence many others to speak out against hypocrisy. If the evidence of George W Bush is anything to go by, America (and the World) could really do with knowing more about Bill Hicks.
Here's hoping they move onto George Carlin next...
* = Though the line about the Hicks family being 'remarkably intelligent' was on the cinematic version, it has been removed from the DVD and replaced with 'the Hicks family continue to protect Bill's Legacy'. Apparently it was an inside joke, so it's good to see that comedy lives on in the genes!
on 22 August 2010
This is a review of the cinema-release version of the film, which I saw with a Directors' Q&A afterward.
The film was clearly a massive labour-of-love for the directors. Unlike some of the other documentaries about him, it focuses on the recollections of those who knew Bill best, and not on high-profile celebrity opinions, and is all the better for it, I think. As I understand it, it is the first film about Bill to have the full blessing and cooperation of his family.
The animation is funny without intruding at all, linking the action and illustrating points well. Yes, the film includes the possibly clichéd "It's Just A Ride" bit, but in this excellent re-telling of it's context, (his knowledge of his impending death) that part of his routine is, for me, renewed and very moving.
The lack of detail about Bill's relationships with women was explained by the Directors: his ex partners had either died or were unwilling to take part in the film. This is a shame, but there is so much material to whittle down to an hour and a half, that it was inevitable some good stuff would have to be left out. And it would have been a shame not to do that part of his life full justice.
Apparently there will be loads of extras on the DVD, and if the excellent rare footage in the film itself is anything to go by, that alone will make it a must for Hicks fans (even those of us who know the routines backwards, and were lucky enough to see him perform live).
I don't really see how this film could have been done better than it was. Deserves a wide audience.
on 27 December 2010
In his last years, the comedian Bill Hicks (1961-1994) became something of a profound philosopher, with his thoughts and feelings about life, mediated through the outer garb of the 'stand-up' comedy circuit. His work has the unusual dual attributes of being both intellectual, and yet at the sametime, absolutely accessible to all and sundry. He often criticised conventional religion, whilst simultaneously advocating the exploration of a deep, broad and open spirituality. He spoke often about the possiBility of the existence of UFO's, and the requirement for humanity to evolve to the next level of conscious being. Hicks experimented with magic mushrooms a number of times in his life. The experiences he encountered confirmed for him that:
'We are all one consciousness, subjectively experiencing itself, through the illusion of Self.'
Bill Hicks describes his comic influences as emanating from Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. His style of creating humour has been described as Jazz-like, and something akin to the artistry and creativity displayed by the famous musician, Bob Dylon. This 2-disc film presents a reliable historical narrative based around the testament of close friends and family members, which depicts the background life of Bill Hicks, as well as the observable development of his comic skills. He began performing in front of adults at the age of 13, and by the time he passed away at the age of just 33 years, he had been touring the USA and Europe for nearly 20 years. Ironically, near the end of his life, he became very well known and appreciated in the UK - even performing at Oxford University - but remained on the fringes of the comedy circuit in his own country. As a son of southern Baptists, he had the unusual ability to objectivise his own life predicament specifically, as well as American culture in general. He described himself as being politically 'to the left', and often criticised US foreign policy and war mongering, with many sketches talking about the American obsession with gun ownership, and the apparent inability of the American pokitical right to associate the 'ownership' of fire-arms, with the 'use' of those very same fire-arms in the killing of thousands of people in the US every year.
He explored both inner and outer space, even attending a course studying Eastern Philosophy. His friends speaks of his interest in meditation as a practice, and how he would always be thinking about the 'divine' in all things. This meant that he carried with him, various books of an up-lifting intellectual and spiritual nature. Due to his perceived liberal attitude to drugs, alcohol and smoking, he was often offered free cocaine and dirnks at gigs. Hicks had talked about mind expansion through meditation, intellectual development and chemical assistance. Alcohol and cocaine however, are substances that close-off perception and offer instead, the charade of sensual intensification for a time. These two substances do not carry the mind freeing experiences that Hicks encountered with his magic-mushroom experimentation. The performances from Hicks at this time become ever-more expressive of angst, depression and despair, but at no time do these performances ever lose their connectivity to the unique essence of the genius of Bill Hicks. It may be uncomfortable to see a human being lying flat on stage, screaming into a microphone over and over again, but Hicks used humour to express the full range of human emotional experience. As with everything Hicks did, he viewed it as a step on his path of conscious evolution. Eventually, he gave-up the drugs and alcohol, only to realise that he was dying from cancer - an illness that was probably not helped by his chain smoking.
The 2-disc edition of this film is 101 minutes long, however, the second disc contains over 5 hours of extra material that often amount to entire documentaries in their own right. The extras include:
1) 30 minutes of unseen footage, and rare clips from Bill's career, that are very funny.
2) 3 hours of extended interviews that present the life story again, in a compact, and highly informative format.
3) Bill's personal audio diaries (includes the indepth Nick Doody interview from 1992, which is surprisingly frank and insightful).
4) Trailers & audience reactions.
5) 6 deleted animation scenes.
In these extras we learn that Hicks, whilst drunk one night, got into a fight with a kilted Scotsman - the outcome of which resulted in Hicks receiving a broken leg! Watching the early films and seeing his parents both then and now, the viewer develops an appreciation of just how the presence of Bill Hicks the extra-ordinary human being, with all his weaknesses and strengths, never once abandoned his sincere honesty, and it is this strand of his character that was never obscured by his outer circumstance. He wanted things to be better for everyone, and in this aspiration lies the compassion that fuelled his honesty. In his short life, Bill Hicks achieved more than many others. This film is definitive due to its intimacy. Those who speak - know what they are talking about. Bill Hicks is not just a person who once lived, his professional persona is nothing short of that of a transpersonal experience. An excellent film and a superb tribute to Bill Hicks.
on 13 March 2011
I was immediately intrigued by the title because in all the many hours of Bill's stand-up i've heard, he never struck me as a patriot, more a citizen of the world who would balk at divisions of nationality and mainly used America as the cultural context for his comedy. The documentary even highlights how he was far better suited to Britain than his homeland.
There is some good stuff in here, and you certainly warm to Bill as a genuinely good soul, but it's all rather lightweight in terms of what Bill really out out there politically and in terms of the New World Order belief which is now gathering speed, partly thanks to Bill. This really for the uninitiated, the equivalent of the new Doors film, 'When You're Strange'.
There is also no discussion of any possible suspicions regarding Bill's death. He seemed to have cleaned up his act and suddenly he's got pancreatic cancer. He was ahead of his time and as i said earlier, some of his opinions about a small number of people running the world from 'behind the curtain' have spread like wildfire thanks to the Internet.
This is a good overview but lacking some kind of edge. Then again, i haven't seen the extras so maybe they contain what seems to be missing.
on 14 October 2011
Bill Hicks...the legend, the myth, the prophet, the man. If you're a fan, you've probably already seen this and if not, why not..? If you're not a fan, what is wrong with you..? Get hold of a copy of this, and Revelations, and go educate yourself...
This docu-film-biog is superb. I was lucky enough to see it at one of the few cinemas showing it in england, and as soon as it was out on dvd I had to own a copy. This edition is wonderful; I haven't gone through all the extras yet, but the rare clips are excellent, and the extended interviews are truly heartwarming.
Bill was an incredible comedian and this film truly does him justice. The style of animation fits and the use of his music throughout, as well as music that he loved and was inspired by, really ties it all together. It may sound soppy, but seeing the family footage of him playing with his nieces and nephews is rather adorable.
And that's what is wonderful about this film; it shows you behind-the-scenes-Bill, and that's what we all want to see in this sort of film. There's no bulking out with big chunks of stand-up from previous releases, like you get in some docu-biogs. Instead, you're treated to a mixture of rare old clips (usually filmed by his brother, Steve), interviews with family, friends and colleagues, many many old photos and some fabulous music.
He played from his heart, godsdammit.
on 3 October 2010
Fans of Bill Hicks will not be disappointed by this new documentary. Having the full backing of his family, also with them taking part, it feels very complete. Not to mention his friends and mentors.
The doc. really goes into what motivated him and how his upbringing brought about the character we think we know so well. Covering his early years of being a great stand-up progressing into what he developed in to, the very best.
The Blu-Ray is rammed with extra's. Over 5-hours worth. Additional interview footage, unseen clips and following the cinema tour with the Hicks family.
A stunning movie. Worth every penny.
on 15 November 2010
I was very much in anticipation of this release, being a massive fan of the subject material. It has been produced by melding photographs,film clips and interview material with a unique mash of digital animation which works very well for the most part. For anybody familiar with Bill's all too brief existence there's nothing terribly new in terms of information, although his mother Mary Hicks is a very entertaining interviewee and its easy to see where the genes were passed from. Much time is given to his heavy drinking period which is welcome, as this is a dark time which was generally brushed over in previous biographies through lack of information, one presumes. It really was a quite serious problem.
For anybody only vaguely aware of Bill's comedy status and also for those over familiar,this film is probably going to fall between two stools. It is story heavy with disappointingly little in terms of Hick's actual appearances; the dropping of a star is actually because of this. Good extras, but a lost opportunity to present tons of unreleased footage. As a big Hicks fan, I'll watch it over and over....then listen to Arizona Bay or Rant in E minor where the real genius lay.
on 14 November 2013
Bill Hicks was up there with Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin- comedians who said what most people were thinking, and who turned their audiences on to challenging and controversial subjects. Bill Hicks, however, stands alone as a man who seemingly hated everything, someone who was against the system; "the angry young comedian" with alter-ego's like 'The dark poet' and 'Goat boy'.
This documentary could well be the best I have seen based on a cult figure. The direction and moving pictures cinematography is masterful, and the interviews with Hicks' family, close friends and admirers sheds much intriguing light. It is a phenomenal study of what we fans deem to be a legendary figure. Very eye-opening, and it never plays as a gushing love letter and never becomes too obsessive (which is what happens with many documentaries). The extras are brilliant, and there are hours of extended interviews and (most impressively) there is some vintage rare Hicks performances shot on shoddy old cheap cameras.
A good purchase along with this DVD is 'Love all the people', a great read that contains the transcripts for a number of his stand-up routines.