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American: The Bill Hicks Story

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

FOR some, the late Bill Hicks was – and remains – one of the greatest comedians of all time. For others, he’s an unknown, someone who passed beneath their radar but whose talent is undeniable.

Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas’ documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story caters for both sets of people.

A loving ode to the memory of Hicks for fans, it also successfully introduces a whole new generation to this tragic phenomenon, thereby ensuring his legacy remains intact.

Hicks was a true comedy pioneer who started performing stand-up in his home-town of Houston, Texas, at the age of 15, before joining the Texas Outlaws comedy collective and slowly developing his own reputation as an outspoken yet astute observationist who challenged institutions and recognised ways of thinking.

In doing so, he also overcame a potentially life-threatening addiction to drink and drugs before eventually succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 32.

Ironically, the world had just been catching up to his talent and seemed poised to give him the recognition he so desperately craved.

Harlock and Thomas’ documentary chronicles this story using a unique and highly impressive animation technique that threads photos and restored footage into interview material and real-life scenarios.

It’s an innovative approach but one that brings Hicks’ journey vividly to life.

The interviews, meanwhile, are all conducted with Hicks’ closest family and friends, and are both touching and amusing in recounting Bill’s story.

Some more sceptical viewers may lament the lack of any real criticism of Hicks’ views, and there were many who thought him too controversial for his own good, but this is first and foremost a tribute doc that wears its heart on its sleeve.

And by virtue of the well chosen footage of Hicks at work, it’s difficult to deny that this was a performer who was way ahead of his time. His material remains as fresh, cutting, probing and funny today, especially to newcomers, as it was back then.

As such, American: The Bill Hicks Story is a documentary to cherish for those that knew Bill, and an eye-opening catch-up experience for those, like me, who would otherwise have missed out.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 103mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 27, 2010