American: The Bill Hicks Story (15)

Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
Screening at FACT from 28th May 2010

Reviewed by Adam Ford

For once, the hype is justified. Bill Hicks really was "the outlaw comic who tried to save the world". This fascinating, inspiring and hilarious documentary tells his story in an innovative fashion, using the recollections and photographs of many who were closest to him.

The man was a 'rock and roll comedian' in the early 1990s, when many of the rock stars who did what he demanded and played "from their fucking heart" were killing themselves with drugs. So it was no coincidence that Hicks did the same, dying from cancer at the tragically early age of thirty-two, a process which was likely helped along by his abuse of his own body, and his liver in particular. But his brief candle burned with ferocious intensity, and he left behind an extraordinary body of work, some highlights of which are featured here.

Having said that, it's possible you've never heard any of his stuff. He was the archetypal 'cult' figure; largely shunned by a US media that couldn't take his brutal dissection of the American dream. The advertisers he advised to commit suicide instead put pressure on programme makers, and Hicks didn't get the exposure he certainly merited. However, he became wildly popular in the UK, where people who were far enough removed from that horror could appreciate the signs of what was coming their way.

It's quite easy to imagine what Hicks would be railing against these days. Swap Bush the Second for Bush the First, Obama for Clinton, Jonas Brothers for New Kids On The Block, and multiply the insanity by about five. But no review can do justice to the scope of his craft, from spontaneous rants (in E-minor or otherwise) and angry denunciations of all in authority, to sprawling monologues which grasped for ideas that might change the world. His love for humanity fought it out with his misanthropy, and watching what he gave us remains an enthralling experience.

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