I was once told by a comedian (who will remain unnamed) that when he begins to lose an audience he has to revert to the audience's intelligence, which usually meant 'dick and fart' jokes.
Bill Hicks never bowed to an audience.
That's what made him brilliant.
American: The Bill Hicks Story brings to life the amazing true story of one of modern culture’s most iconic figures. Much more than just a comedian, Bill Hicks has become an inspiration to millions around the world. As a rebellious teenager, he discovered that comedy was a way to break all the rules, but then he found it could also open people’s minds. Bill’s comedy challenged the injustices of life head on, but his uncompromising approach met with conflict in America and it was instead on the international stage where he found fame. In 1993, on the verge of wider success, Bill fell ill with terminal cancer, but his timeless material has lived on, revered by comedians and audiences alike as the man who changed comedy forever. Taking documentary to a new level, American uses interviews, archive footage including many unseen performances, and stunning animation to bring Bill’s inspiring story to life, told for the first time by those that knew him best.
The BBC knows how to make a production, and for this particular production it needed to be handled with particular care. Most people these days, especially the young folk, never knew who Bill Hicks was. In a world full of Dane Cooks and Jackasses, Bill Hicks might have certainly rolled over in his grave if he didn't feel like society as a whole needed to kiss his ass in his current position. American: The Bill Hicks Story spins a very cleverly crafted documentary of the life of one of the more 'real' comedians of the world. It does it in a way to not only preserve Hicks' story and character, but also maintain a certain lighthearted nature of Hicks' early life, as it grew and eventually spiraled out of control. Through a series of animated still pictures, great interviews with family, friends and co-workers, the BBC gives a solid tale that would probably make Hicks smile. What impressed me the most about this Blu-ray was how the BBC seemed to leave nothing out. Normally, documentaries tend to follow some sort of typical Hollywood rollercoaster ride so that the audience can feel comfortable following everything. With American: The Bill Hicks Story it simply just puts the man's life and career on the table and follows it from point A to point B. With that type of non-Hollywood formula you get a more natural progression and more powerful view of Hicks' failures, triumphs and in-betweens.
In other words, it makes the man seem real, which is what Hicks carved himself out to be in his professional career. This type of storytelling magnifies his mission, which was to simply tell the world how they were acting.
For those of you who have never seen or heard of Hicks then you're going to be in for a treat. Unlike obnoxious shock-jocks that use screaming and yelling to bring attention to themselves, the documentary put together by the BBC will show you how a true comedian performs and teaches the masses. Hicks prided himself on taking common knowledge (government laws, big time politicians, idiot political movements) and made fun of them through logical means. For example, in one of his rants he talks about flag burning. He gives a funny argument for those who are against it by mocking a stereotypical 'hick' who uses their father fighting in a war as an excuse to hate those who practice flag burning. Hicks mocks and then brings his point full circle to, 'freedom means that you can burn the flag, which is what people fought'. This sort of comedy is cleverly crafted, funny as hell and more importantly true. Most irritated at the world, and people for not being shepherds and mostly being sheep, Hicks' story shows a never-ending passion to teach the world a thing or two that it should know already; the BBC captures all of this perfectly in this documentary.
In the end, the BBC did a great job with handling Bill Hicks' story. I really enjoyed the free nature of the flow this documentary turned out to be. Using friends, family and co-workers to craft the story of this comedian who died way too young, it was refreshing to see his legacy and purpose treated so well.
As for the Blu-ray portion, I was really impressed with what the BBC and Warner Home Video delivered. It's difficult to imagine old still pictures looking sharp in HD, but they do on this release. Through the magic of Photoshop, and probably a really great cleaning job, the pictures are visually appealing. They go perfectly along with the HD interviews that are meticulously placed throughout the documentary. The only time in the main documentary where the footage begins to falter is when old comedy show tapes are edited into the mix. The segments in the smaller clubs are shot on what could possibly be the worst VHS recorder known to man, but the footage gets a lot better when Hicks performs in bigger venues (like in England and Canada). As a whole, the footage you get is very clean and can be called in every sense a true HD upgrade that belongs on the Blu-ray medium. The audio is equally as nice, as it's unnecessarily mastered to 5.1 DTS-HD. Overkill on the audio? Yeah, but a welcome overkill.
The treats in this release really become sweeter when you get to the features. You get Hicks' personal audio journals, which are phenomenal and frightening at times. You get some great extended interviews, a segment with the Austin SXSW panel, the making of Arizona Bay (one of Hicks' best CD releases), a good tribute and a lot more goodies including some unseen performances. Much like everything else with this release, the BBC does a helluva job honoring the memory of what many consider the best and brightest comedian to ever be. You will be occupied with this Blu-ray well after the main feature ends.