For fans of the band Hole, HIT SO HARD is nothing short of required watching. Tracing the ups and downs of drummer Patty Schemel, P. David Ebersole’s documentary cobbles together informative interviews over a number of years with incredibly intimate home movie footage to craft a portrait of a woman, and a band, constantly on the edge of collapse.
Schemel, an out and proud lesbian, faced a number of personal and professional demons during her tenure with Hole – from issues with her sexuality, to lifelong problems with alcohol and drugs, to the rigors of being a part of touring band, even the heartbreak intrinsic in knowing (and loving) Kurt Cobain and Kristen Pfaff. But though Schemel’s life story is compelling, the focus of HIT SO HARD gets lost along the way in the tangle of other (stronger) stories.
As the drummer of the band, Schemel was the backbone of Hole, both sonically and emotionally. But as the band began to explode professionally, Schemel began to implode personally. The alternative music scene of the 1990s, particularly the Seattle scene, was rife with both talent and pain. Drug use was the exception, not the rule, and volatile behavior and relationships were the norm. Seattle was never the same after the death of Kurt Cobain, and it’s easy to see why Schemel, enmeshed in a deep friendship with Kurt and a fruitful band-ship with Courtney Love, could barely survive it, even when her success was all but assured. Ruthlessly unglamorous, HIT SO HARD doesn’t back down on the tough stuff, and there’s more than enough to cover here.
Yet, HIT SO HARD relies too often on the stories of the people that surround Patty, despite the fact that the film is most emotionally interesting when Patty herself is rehashing the events of her life. Interviewees include the other primary members of Hole in its heyday, including Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, and Melissa Auf der Mar, along with Roddy Bottum from Faith No More, Luscious Jackson’s Kate Schellenbach, and photographer Joe Mama-Nitzberg, to name a few. Though all discuss Schemel with affection and respect (Auf der Mar in particular), there’s often a sense of “too many cooks in the kitchen,” too many voices speaking out about one story. Moreover, when Courtney Love is on screen, even if she is discussing Patty, the entire affair becomes The Courtney Love Show. An imposing and polarizing figure, Love comes off as surprisingly cognizant of her reputation, and it’s nearly impossible to look away from her. HIT SO HARD is about Schemel, but it makes it easy to long for a Love-centric film.
The film runs too long and is unabashedly sloppy with its timing, ricocheting between time periods in Schemel and the band’s lives with little reason and connection. It’s overwhelmed by dinky text overlays that draw attention away from the subject matter it’s trying to clarify. When we get to the biggest and most important sections of the film, they’re bogged down by everything else that has come before. It’s difficult to fully connect with and invest in Schemel and her story, because little in the film is constructed in such a way to incite the proper emotional response. For a film about such a personal story, much of it feels flat and vacant.
Other documentaries that focus on the personal impact of fame on the personal lives of musicians far outshine HIT SO HARD. Another SXSW film, last year’s UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS, was a shockingly moving mediation that went far beyond its music doc roots, a film that could stir even non-fans of The White Stripes. Something like UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US, though ostensibly about a small subculture of music, still managed to be fascinating and informative to all viewers. HIT SO HARD will surely enthrall fans of Hole and Schemel, but lacks the punch to knock out the newbies.