American: The Bill Hicks Story
When Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer in February 1994, he left a void which the American stand-up world has found impossible to fill. The son of Southern Baptists, this comedy preacher succumbed to his addictions at the age of 32, leaving behind a trail of questions in his wake: what kind of comic would he have turned into? Would he have remained true to his spirit or ultimately sold out to the corporate world he loathed? Why was he so beloved in Britain but relatively shunned in his homeland? If you seek answers to any of these questions, you won’t find them in American, an overly stylistic, patchy and awkwardly put-together run-through of Hicks’ hectic life and times.
Documentary-makers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas were certainly given access to kill for, interviewing his siblings, parents and closest buddies (including comic Dwight Slade and film producer Kevin Booth) and through those avenues are handed early footage and unseen photos which are the real pleasure of the film. Odd then that they should use the images in jarring photonovel-style reconstructions, while the use of Hicks’ music (his first love ahead of comedy) stomps all over what should be the painfully moving closing sequences.
An authentic unbridled talent which couldn’t be reined in by friends, colleagues and, on all too many occasions, himself, Hicks’ star still shines very powerfully. There is a definitive, epic biography to be made on this stand-up icon, but American isn’t quite it.
GFT, Glasgow; Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 14 May.