SXSW: Have Your Perceptions Changed By American: The Bill Hicks Story

By Josh Tyler 2010-03-15 17:53:49discussion comments
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The UK filmmakers responsible for American: The Bill Hicks Story explain their filmís title as a question, a question they hope people will ask when they see it on the poster. Though almost without a doubt one of the greatest, most poignant stand-up comics ever to take the stage, Hicks never found widespread fame in America. Their hope is that the legions of potential fans who still havenít discovered him will see the poster and wonder what it is about Hicks that makes him such a quintessential American. Who is this guy who theyíre claiming as one of us? Heís Bill Hicks and even though heís been dead for more than a decade, his comedy could change your life.

But American: The Bill Hicks Story is more than just a series of great stand-up moments from Bill, though it contains plenty of those. The film successfully charts the course he took to become the man he was, to hone the sharp, funny, social commentary he brought to the stage. Perhaps most importantly, it does that without being boring.

The biggest problem with making a documentary about someone whoís dead is that theyíre not there to put up on screen. Normally this results in a series of interviews with people who knew the subject, but whom we the audience donít care about and thus have no real interest in watching up there on screen as they hog the subjectís glory. Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have solved this problem with technology. Using a vast archive of photos taken of Bill throughout his life, theyíve created what is essentially an animated slideshow of Billís life. As the people who knew him speak about the places he went and the things he did, Thomas and Harlock show Bill up there on screen doing them. In some cases they have actual photos to animate, in others they use computer generated imagery with actual photos of Bill skillfully superimposed into the scene to make it look like heís really there. Itís kind of like those commercials where they resurrect dead actors and force them to become pitchmen for their product. Except in this case itís much more simply done and the people doing it arenít pure fucking evil. Seriously, if youíre in advertising, kill yourself. A message from Bill Hicks.

Animating their documentary in this way not only keeps the audience awake, it draws you into the story of Billís life. It comes alive in creating a complete portrait of how he became the brilliant social commentator and comedian he was. And when thereís a lull in the documentaryís story telling, no problem, they have Bill. If nothing else American: The Bill Hicks Story is worth seeing for the numerous minutes of Bill Hicks performances shown in the film. Even now, fifteen or twenty years later, Bill kills. His message is as relevant now, or perhaps more relevant now, than it was then. He stalks the stage railing against injustice and our own fucking stupidity. He pleads with his audience for logic and common sense, wandering the country begging people to listen. While he was alive, all too few in America did. Nowís your chance. See this movie. Force people you know to see it with you. Drag them kicking, and screaming. Bill Hicks needs your help. For more info on the film visit

But Bill can make a case for his brilliance better than a lowly hack like I can. See the movie, youíll know what I mean. In the meantime, Iíll shut the hell up and let Bill speak for himself. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Hicks:

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