J.C. De Leon

by: J.C. De Leon
June 15th, 2011

In life, there are figures that are underappreciated legends, and all too often it is those who are most underappreciated who are taken from us far too soon. Comedian Bill Hicks was one of those figures. He died at the young age of 32 from pancreatic cancer, and it wasn’t until years after his death that his brand of comedy truly became appreciated. AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY details his incredibly compelling, yet far too brief life.

Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, this documentary starts with interviews from Bill’s family about his early years and features an astonishing amount of footage of him and his brother as kids. Rather than relying on the traditional talking head format of most documentaries, the audio of the interviews is placed up against sequences of photographs interlaced with old stand-up footage of Bill doing what he did best. Every participant in the documentary was incredibly insightful, and sincere in the amount of love they had for Bill, even amidst his descent into drug and alcohol abuse.

There aren’t a lot of films that produces Blu-rays that I would say are a true requirement to own, but this will be one of them. If you’re a Bill Hicks fan, whether you know a lot about the man or not, you MUST own this Blu-ray. There is no other film that will ever be this comprehensive, and even if you’re not the biggest fan of documentaries, there’s one other reason you should own this set, and it’s the extras. There are so many extras built into this set that those alone make the disk worth getting. Among the best the set has to offer are 3 hours of extended interviews featuring talking head footage, and 30 minutes of rare stand-up footage of Bill Hicks spread out over 18 clips.

Official list of extras:

• Extended Interviews Part 1 - Four categories of extended interviews with Hicks's family and friends are provided here and are viewable either separately or together. Some of the topics touched upon include the environment Hicks grew up in and how it might have shaped him, his religious upbringing, some funny anecdotes about his behavior in school, and his brotherly relationship with Dwight Slade.

• Austin SXSW Panel w/ Bill's friends - Footage from the panel at the SXSW Music and Film Festival where the movie screened. Moderated by one of the film's directors, Matt Harlock, the panel includes Steve Hicks, David Johndrow, John Farneti, and James Ladmirault. The main topic covered was why his comedy is still popular today.

• Dominion Tour - This is an interview with Chris Bould and Charles Brand, the director and producer of Hicks's Revelations show in England. Joined by Hicks's mother, sister, and brother, the two discuss conceptualizing the theme of the famous stand-up show and share stories about shooting its elaborate cowboy opening.

• Extended Interviews Part 2 - More extended interviews with Hicks's family, friends, and fellow comedians, available to watch in nine separate parts or all together. Topics discussed include Hicks's amazing confidence in his friends, more on his move to LA, the influence he had on and took from his comic peers, his descent into substance abuse, his popularity in England, and his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the aftermath of his death. Like the previous set of interviews, very little information is repeated from the main feature and it all serves to flesh out the details of Hicks's life in an interesting and emotional manner. It’s traditional talking head footage, but the wealth of information provided here should please fans and create new ones.

• Festivals in the US and UK w/ the Hicks - This is footage of the filmmakers and Hicks' as they take to the film festival circuit and screen the documentary in various cities. We get glimpses of the Q&A sessions, some press interviews, and audience reactions.

• Bill's Family visit Abbey Road - This featurette shows Hicks' family touring the famous Abbey Road recording studio in England. While there they bring some rough musical recordings Hicks made while on the road to be remastered for commercial release.

• UK 15th Anniversary Tribute - This is a look at a special tribute held in England in honor of Bill Hicks which features clips of his routines and live stand-up from contemporary comedians.

• Comedy School - These are some extended interviews with Dwight Slade and James Ladmirault focusing on the art and psychology of stand-up comedy. This feature provides some worthwhile insight into the addictive and complicated nature of comedy.

• Dwight in London - This is a brief interview with Dwight Slade discussing the differences between performing in the states and in the UK that features some footage of his mildly amusing stand-up act.

• Making of Arizona Bay - In this featurette, Kevin Booth discuses the making of Hicks's comedy album along with some interesting home video footage of the two of them working on the recordings.

• The Ranch - This is a tour of the ranch where Bill Hicks would experiment with mushrooms. Kevin Booth goes on to describe how it was like a safe haven for them, and offers a few more insights on his deep friendship with Hicks.

• Deleted Scenes - Seven very brief deleted scenes are presented here. They include some extra bits about Hicks's ultra low budget karate comedy 'Ninja Bachelor Party', Hicks's rock performance at a high school talent show, and writing for Rodney Dangerfield.

• Early and Alternate Scenes - Seven short early and alternate cuts of material featured in the main film are included here. Frankly, these are pretty disposable and don't offer much value.

• Rare Clips - This is about a half hour's worth of rare stand-up material and other footage broken up into eighteen clips. There are some real funny bits here spanning Hicks's career and the trailer for 'Ninja Bachelor Party' is definitely a highlight.

• Audio Journals - Three audio recordings of Hicks are included here with no subtitle options. They are titled: Bill Lonely in LA 1981 (3 min), Bill Leaves New York for LA 1992 (4 min), and a Rare Interview with Nick Doody 1992 (28 min). The first two recordings offer a look into Hick's emotional state during some important parts of his life and the interview features a pretty comprehensive conversation that covers everything from Hicks's influences, to his attitude toward his audience, view on politics, and even his interest in UFOs.

• Audience Reactions Trailer - A trailer for the film focusing on reactions to screenings by audience members.

Commenting Rules: Comments are intended to open up the discussion to our readers about the topics at hand, and as such should be offered with a positive and constructive attitude. If your comment is not relative to the above post or is disrespectful to the authors and readers, we reserve the right to delete it. Continued abuse of our good nature will result in banishment of the offender. Additionally, if you have any burning issues to point out to the GATW crew - typos, corrections, suggestions, or straight-up criticism - please email us instead of commenting here.

  • Recent Post