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American - The Bill Hicks Story

Kevin Booth , John Farneti , Matt Harlock , Paul Thomas    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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The brief trajectory of Bill Hicks is a saga that has only grown larger since his death from cancer in 1994, with the comedian's brainily profane, take-no-prisoners approach attracting a fervent cult of admirers. For those fans, this loving film will serve as a further confirmation of Hicks's often blistering talents. Those on the outside, however, may find this an unsatisfactory entry point. As a documentary, it tends to tell, rather than show. Using an animated photo collage that recalls The Kid Stays in the Picture, codirectors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have assembled a legion of family, friends, and fellow performers to wax rhapsodic about Hicks's turbulent life and times, ranging from his early success as a teenage performer, his struggles with drugs and alcohol, periodic brushes with stardom, and his final defiant rants against the establishment before succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. While the passion of the filmmakers and participants is without question (particularly on the extended interviews included in the extra features), the performances shown unfortunately often fail to live up to the buildup, with such hallmarks as his famously scuttled last David Letterman appearance nowhere to be seen. The clips that are present, meanwhile, tend to favor the comedian's angrily self-righteous rants, rather than his more accessible--and often riotously filthy--comedy routines. Those already among the converted will find this reverent look back essential, but newcomers to Hicks's material may have some trouble seeing what the fuss is about.--Andrew Wright

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Bill Hicks is a genius. His satire cut to the core of what is imortant in life and cut through the B. S. in politics and religion. I think he is of the most important thinkers in recent history.

This is a great movie that summarizes his life and message. If anything it holds back in certain areas like sex, war, gay marriage, and politics where his views are more agitated than shown in this excellent film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Purchase July 10 2011
Format:Blu-ray
Whether you are a fan of Bill Hicks or not, this is an incredible documentary. The attention to detail by the filmmakers with photographs and modern location footage is magical. One of the best tributes to someone's life I have ever seen. And, as an bonus for Bill Hicks fans, there are hours of extras to enjoy spread out over two discs. I have not been so happy with a dvd purchase in a long time. Highly recommended.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Is there a point to all this? Lets make a point." April 10 2011
By SJ - Published on Amazon.com
If you consider yourself a fan of the late Bill Hicks then this is a must see documentary. Very well put together as you get a chronological order of the events that took place on his rise to stardom. Included some early life and behind the scene details of Hicks' trials and tribulations. I thought the beginning of the film was a little slow but things quickly picked up as Hick's career started to bloom. Production did a good job including many of Bill's early and late footage of his shows. Fan or not, I think no one will be disappointed watching this film. Its unfortunate that we do not have enough people like Bill Hicks to invoke thought as well as put a comical light on issues that may normally bring about negative feelings. R.I.P.
62 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bill Hicks deserves a hell of a lot more than this June 16 2011
By M. Fulkerson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
In the booklet included with the new Blu-ray "American: The Bill Hicks Story", Mary Hicks, Bill Hicks' mother, is quoted as saying "When he got sick, Bill wanted me to help him file all of his photographs, and he showed me Hendrix and Dylan documentaries. I said, 'Bill, why are you showing me all of this?' and he said 'In case someone comes mom, and they want to make one about me.'" After watching this documentary on the late and brilliant comedian one has to wonder if the film makers would have been better off consulting Mrs. Hicks on the basics of telling compelling stories. As fascinating a subject as Hicks unquestionably is, this documentary proves to be an extremely disappointing dusting over of Hicks' career combined with an irritating level of gloss and flashy editing techniques which show a lack of respect for the subject in favor of displaying art school editing prowess.

The problem in reviewing a documentary such as "American" is many fans of Bill Hicks already know the back story of his life and career. There have been very good documentaries and books focused on this subject that do a fine job of divulging personal stories and anecdotes, and there are many bootleg videos and even commercially available dvd's that show Hicks in action on stage. "American" chooses to pick from these readily available sources to show the viewer the kind of comedian and voice he was. There are a few more rare performances shown, and those clips are definitely the highlight in this film, but for the most part one can't help but feel that old news is being rehashed constantly.

All of the interviews in "American" are with Hicks' family, friends, and fellow local comedians at the time, and while they are all very eager to tell stories about Bill, it's hard not to notice the complete and total lack of attention that is paid to some of the bigger names that respected Hicks. People like David Letterman, Jay Leno, and the New Yorker's John Lahr are ignored in this documentary, and if anyone had a significant impact on Hicks' career it would be these three. This total lack of recognition of the bigger names surrounding Hicks' story make the interviews with his family and friends that much more vacant. Not to say that his family and friends are not interesting, because they are, but when there is so much more history and voices being ignored it makes it hard to counteract other points of view that may not be so biased.

What leaves the biggest distaste in the mouth about "American" is the crow-barring of the editing and graphical style. The film makers obviously had a gimmick up their sleeves with how they wanted to show this story, and it takes so much away from the subject that by the end of the film you're left wondering if they film was about Bill Hicks or this new and wacky editing tool. All of Hicks' family photos are interspersed with cartoony and slick visuals that flat out annoy. During the entirety of the film the viewer will desperately wait for a moment that is just raw video footage instead of Hicks being portrayed as a cartoon figure reciting his comedy. More than that, though, you really have a palpable feeling that more time was spent in the editing and animating room than focusing on Hicks and his legacy. There is a ton to be said about Hicks by many different voices, and when you gloss over this fact with flashy animations all substance goes out the window. It's hard to imagine Hicks would be happy if this documentary ended up being the only film based on his life.

Bill Hicks is a precious subject. There is a reason why more and more people each year flock to his mind and words. He was an incredibly sensitive, hilarious, thought-provoking, and engaged person. This documentary does little to reflect that, sadly. It's hard to give a two-star review to a subject that is so brilliant, but any time more attention is brought to Hicks can only be a good thing. There are many other ways to discover Hicks and what he had to say, and this documentary should not be one that you consider. Start with his albums. "Dangerous" first, then "Relentless", followed by "Arizona Bay", and finally "Rant In E Minor". These albums are the only introduction you will ever need. As far as other documentaries about Hicks go, the Comedy Central produced "It's Just A Ride" is far more competent and telling than "American". It features interviews with both his friends and family as well as the more famous names that were there as Hicks rose to fame. I will also point out that the blu-ray edition features hours of extra content including interviews and performances which make this purchase a little more justifiable.

Understanding Hicks is sitting down and giving him your full and undivided attention. Part of the problem with "American" is that Hicks is reduced to soundbites and one-liners that were never Hicks' forte. When Hicks came on stage he told stories, weaving them together with other stories, coming back to them, referencing earlier jokes, and accosting his audience with declarations of love and concern. You cannot wrap up the Bill Hicks experience in a soundbite. Experiencing Hicks live meant that you had to ingest, absorb, and ruminate. Otherwise you just wouldn't get it. The quality of "American" is on par of a passing fan without much interest in the comedian; someone who may chuckle a bit at his stories but hold no interest in Hicks beyond a surface level curiosity, and ultimately not understand the bigger picture. While I can accept this probably isn't the case with the film makers here, they certainly don't convince to the contrary. Bill Hicks' message deserves much more than that.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story of the best stand-up comic and truth-teller, living or dead April 13 2011
By J. D Prall - Published on Amazon.com
I saw it tonight on its second US release after NYC and before LA, in a small bar in Denton, Texas, surrounded by about 50 Bill Hicks fans, and if you get a chance to see it like that, do so. Next best, invite a few fans over to watch it, and rent it as Video on Demand.

It is an outstanding documentary, and it deserves to win all sorts of awards. And for true fans who think they have all the CDs and videos, you'll find enough new material to satisfy you as well.

Where are you now, Bill, when we need you so much? You're in this movie, and maybe you can still inspire people to stand up and be counted.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proud to be an American Bill Hicks fan! Dec 3 2010
By Gary Foessett - Published on Amazon.com
Writing from Austin, Texas (Bill Hick's home base), I must say I am saddened and outraged that this release has not been made available here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is no surprise that this is a UK import - they appreciated him more over there then they ever did here. Jolly good! I doubt this will ever get a stateside NTSC release. If you have a way to play PAL DVDs, then this is manna from heaven for any Bill Hicks fan. Kudos to the film makers for this awesome tribute to Mr. William Melvin Hicks! The graphics are unique and the film is a true testament to the impact Bill Hicks has had and continues to have as his words ring truer everyday.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great dose of truth telling Aug. 12 2013
By Robert M. - Published on Amazon.com
I enjoyed this and have been wanting to watch for a while.

Hicks is one of those comedians that is a true mirror to our ridiculousness. He is someone that doses out tough love that we all need to hear and absorb. Plan on watching again.

And go buy his albums.
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