This funny, inspiring and tragic documentary chronicles Bill Hicks, the iconoclastic comedian who combined the fury of a fire-and-brimstone preacher with the musings of a hard-living philosophy professor. It's a sad commentary on American culture that Sam Kinison, another "outrageous" comic who covered similar territory but threw in enough misogyny and mindless jingoism to appease the frat boys, is now a comedy legend, while Hicks, who died of cancer in 1994, is a footnote to all but comedy fans.
That's not true in the U.K., however, which is perhaps why it took two British directors to bring his story to the screen. Hicks' rise—from straightlaced suburban kid who made up routines with his friends to dark, comic philosopher—is told largely through voice-overs from his friends and family (very few celebs pop up here), home movies and a photo-animation technique that takes you into the story, unlike the usual assembly of photos and talking heads. The film doesn't idolize Hicks, recounting his drug and alcohol problems, the latter of which got him banned from clubs and derailed his career for awhile. But it gives an illuminating look into his creative process and how his experiments with mushrooms and other mind-altering substances led to his style: commenting on the world's absurdities and contradictions in an alternately-angry-and-spiritual comic voice (one that many after him have borrowed, to put it mildly). The occasionally shocking, hysterical and poignant excerpts from his act that we see here make us wish he were still around to provide his unique take on terrorism, the Tea Party and our endless cycle of war.
Opens April 8 at Cinema Village