Sheffield docfest: American: The Bill Hicks Story
(Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas)
The Resurrection of Goatboy
‘Ever notice how we always kill the good guys and let the demons run amok?’
The self proclaimed ‘Chomsky with dick jokes’, Bill Hicks was a prophet and philosopher, embittered by religion, American unipolarity and capitalism, i’m yet to come across anyone who wouldn’t agree with his wise musings. Three years in the making, it was two brits Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas that were granted the divine right to tell the story of one of comedy’s if not humanity’s most iconic figures. This feature length documentary adopts innovative animation technique, using photos and snippets of footage of Hicks’ family and friends to go above and beyond the conventional talking heads set up. Harlock and Thomas speak to those who knew Hicks best, with each one capturing the essence of Bill with their amusing anecdotes and memories of the fellow. His close family recall his Baptist upbringing, which seemed to be the butt of some of his more extreme material. His childhood friend Dwight Slade reminisces over the duos high school days, performing guerrilla routines in front of anyone who happened to be within their perimeter. We’re launched into an animated recreation of the world of Hicks, his beginnings in Houston sneaking out of the house to perform at the Commix Annexe. Perhaps the most impressive footage is 15 year old Hicks performing to a crowd twice his age as the accompanying voiceovers recall his rare observational talent from such an early age. With the footage of Hicks live routines we feel as if we are in the audience, we cringe when he puts down drunken hecklers in the audience and almost compelled to shout praise in agreement of his poignant quips. The animation really excels itself during the documentary’s ‘squeegee clean’ third eye segment; recounting Hicks experiences with magic mushrooms and goes hand in hand with his liberal take on the ‘war on drugs’. A notorious chain smoker, the documentary deals with Hicks struggle with alcohol and pancreatic cancer without too much unnecessary hyperbole and sentimentality culminating with footage of Hicks last show in New York in 1994 just before his untimely death at the age of 32. As one friend puts it, as is so often the case with reluctant heroes, If Hicks was able to see the messianic status he’s been afforded in the entertainment industry he’d either find it highly amusing or be disgusted by it, but as biographic documentaries go ‘American...’ is a much needed celebration of Hicks life and philosophy; the vital importance of which in this day and age I cannot stress enough. After all It’s just a ride.