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American - The Bill Hicks Story [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
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Growing up in Texas, Bill Hicks first started performing comedy at the age of 15. He soon became a regular in Houston’s comedy circuit, before moving to LA and embarking on a touring schedule, playing up to 300 shows a yea, all in a country where he was largely unknown.
In 1990, Hicks performed in the United Kingdom for the first time, and became an instant star, finding fame and notoriety which had escaped him in the US and it was just as Hicks seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough in America, that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on February 24, 1994 at just 32.
Using never-before-seen animation techniques we hear Bill’s story, for the first time, through the people who knew him best, his family and friends, showing a timeless legacy left that’s as fresh and relevant today as it was when he wrote it.
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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.
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!
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.
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