William Bradley Hicks – social satirist, polemicist, comedic genius, American. In many ways the man was so much more than a stand-up comic; I mean who else could present a scathing deconstructive critique of the United States imperium and military industrial complex that not only made you think but also laugh yourself pink? He was the Morpheus of comedy, a prophet trying to unplug his audience from the socio-political Matrix of the establishment between promises of dick and fart jokes.
American: The Bill Hicks Story shines as labour of love for British Directing/Producing duo Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas and is set to become the definitive documentary on the comedian. Rich in anecdotal detail from candid interviews with the 10 people who knew Hicks best we’re taken on a vivid journey charting the life and career of a true original.
Visually the piece pioneers a dazzling photo-animation technique using hundreds of digitised photographs culled from the personal collections of Hick’s family and friends, their reminiscences brought to life with immediacy and intimacy. The decision to eschew established “talking head” documentary convention for the majority for the narrative is a bold one that pays off in spades such is the immersive effect of the photorealistic animation.
Long time Hicks fans will revel in the wealth of delightfully grubby and previously unseen VHS material brought to light featuring a young Bill in the early stages of his career. Harlock and Thomas have been granted access to manna from heaven in this respect and they implement it well. It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of a comic from diffident yet competent boy to commanding master of the stage.
What quibbles to be had are minor. Following a traditional on-camera introduction to the principal interviewees it would’ve been nice to have had the occasional titled reminder as to who precisely was speaking. From Hicks teenage rebellion through comedy against the stifling monotony of bourgeois Texan suburbia to his battle with booze, transcendent drug experiences and untimely death due to pancreatic cancer in 1993, the film is pretty much all-encompassing. However his romantic life is neglected with little mention of girlfriends etc. This is an interesting omission yet one which arguably has little detrimental impact to our understanding of the man.
Overall American: The Bill Hicks Story is a lovingly crafted and supremely polished documentary, standing as fitting tribute to a fascinating maverick and very funny man. Highly recommended.