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A&E Blog

You Missed It: American: The Bill Hicks Story

by Scott Renshaw
Posted // 2011-06-07 -

Our showcase of films that didn’t get a theatrical release in Utah returns—this time, with a chance for you to see it yourself.

While comedian Bill Hicks was clearly a terrific subject for a documentary, there was no guarantee that a documentary about him would be similarly interesting. But directors Matt Harlock and Bill Thomas take the story of the groundbreaking stand-up comedian and come up with something that offers enough visual kick to complement Hicks’ own scathing material. American: The Bill Hicks Story debuts today on DVD; see below for how to win a copy.

The film follows a traditional chronological arc, following Hicks from his childhood in Georgia and Texas through his high-school open-mic gigs with his pal Dwight Slade, his bouts with substance abuse, eventual sobriety, the discovery of his voice as cultural commentator and his death from cancer in 1994 at the age of 32. We hear from plenty of what would be “talking heads” in typical documentaries—Hicks’ family members, Slade and others of his comedy colleagues—but American illustrates scenes from his life through animations of photos. The gimmick doesn’t always work, but it’s enough to keep the narrative moving between the clips of Hicks’ professional career.

And those clips are terrific, from the footage of a teenage Hicks already showing an unnatural stage presence to his heyday commanding theater crowds in Europe. Though it would be easy to see American as a kind of artistic tragedy—the visionary who died too young and was never appreciated fully in his own country—it actually provides a kind of road map for brilliance. It's almost a perfect case study for Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers thesis of genius not so much as something inborn, but the result of ridiculous hours of work, experimentation and discarding of failed efforts until you can finally hit on that one thing that makes you you. And if it introduces a whole new generation to the magical misanthropy of Bill Hicks along the way, so much the better.

If you'd like to grab a copy of American for yourself, just send an email to scottr[at]cityweekly.net with the subject line "Hicks." Five winners will be selected randomly from among the entries, and notified by 9 a.m. Friday, June 10. City Weekly employees and their immediate families are not eligible. Winners must be able to pick up the copy in person at the City Weekly office in downtown Salt Lake City (248 S. Main St.) during regular business hours 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, or have a designated individual do so on their behalf.

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