[sic] Magazine

Bill Hicks – American (DVD)

The Bill Hicks legacy was, for a while there, in danger. The uneven posthumous releases – including a redundant best-of, and two releases of the same show under different titles, with differing content – were starting to despoil the main body of work. ‘American : The Bill Hicks Story’, reclaims that with a fierce respect.

Hicks life, as with his work, was mercilessly short, and utterly vital. Though ostensibly a comedian, he was more of a preacher – an idealist blessed with a rare gift for using humour to extract the absurd from reality. There have been so many words about Hicks and his work there is little now anyone can add to the matter: and all that remains now are the artefacts. The recordings, the low quality VHS tapes, the cassette reels and answerphone messages. All are here.

‘American’ tells his story: and there is little way I could have imagined this being bettered. Using archive footage, animated photography and old Polaroid’s, and the above mentioned rotting and ancient castes, the Hicks story is told in his own voice from stage, television, and radio, with the full support of his family and friends being interviewed at length, to chronologically describe his life and the themes in his works. Aside from interviewing the man himself through Ouija Board (coming in 2011 on Channel Five: ‘Dead Talk!’), there’s no more authentic way of telling this tale.

Over 101 curt minutes, Hicks journey is told. There are on occasion, an overreliance on extremely familiar footage from ‘Sane Man’, ‘Revelations’, and his other work, and tantalising glimpses of legendary shows – the infamous ‘Chicago Heckler’ scene – but what this work also does is reveal a side to Hicks few knew ; his love for rock, the depths of his depravity, the faith he had in others. Aside from this revelatory documentary, the DVD release meanwhile is unsurpassed with an absolute feast of five hours of additional material: all clearly made out of a labour of love and a compulsion to make this release one of the most comprehensive DVD packages ever released.

The three hours of extended interview footage cover the entire main story, told by carefully interwoven interview footage that relays an alternate and more comprehensive version of his life stuffed to the gills with new anecdotes and insights from his family and friends. There’s half an hour of extra Bill footage from several shows, a 27 minute telephone interview with Bill from 1992, and over an hour of deleted scenes, featurettes, Q&A’s and extra stuff. This is exhaustive, definitive, and assembled with great care to cherry pick material which is of interest to the viewer: no thoughtless, quickly dashed off fluff and nonsense here. It truly is amongst the finest set of DVD extras since the enormous ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Alien’ box sets of past days.

In conclusion, the main feature is a compelling and illuminating document that widens the understanding of his life, work, and philosophy. The extras are enormous, comprehensive, and utterly essential viewing for the disciple at the temple of Hicks. Recommended.

For more from Mark, please visit The Final Word