It's a shame when the legacy of Bill Hicks gets mired in an imposed iconography of cigarettes and dick jokes; beyond his patchy beard and professor glasses was one of the great existentialists, one of the great moralists of the last century—and you don't have to dig terribly deep in his humor to find it.
Sure, it sounds like I'm trying to consecrate the guy with hyperbole—like so many do—but sometimes you just have to call a prophet a prophet. After slipping on a banana peel and landing face first in political/religious/social enlightenment, he found himself leagues beyond Lenny Bruce or Sam Kinison, spitting heady, profound truth in succinct nuggets made digestible by a vitriolic wit. If you ask me, his posthumously released album "Rant in E-Minor" is just as necessary for a proper coming-of-age as "The People's History of the United States" or "Siddhartha."
Thank God the man's legacy was committed to a proper cinematic treatment.
Constantly engaging, moving along from his unextraordinary childhood in Houston, through his battles with (and celebration in) booze and coke and, ultimately, to his early death as a 32-year old here in Little Rock, the film treats him with equal parts reverence and familiarity and succeeds in spades.
Played to a standing room-only house of Hicks fans, the vaguely familiar and, hopefully, the newly familiarized, "American" sent the audience jumping from hysterics to admiration; when it ended, the audience was either too hushed or too shaken to applaud. Half a minute later, the hands began to clap and a number of the audience raised up for a standing ovation.
Hicks' mother, Mary, and brother, Steve, spoke afterwards. When asked about the late comedian/social commentator's religion, his brother commented that he viewed Bill as a Biblical scholar who read the book often in spite of being a go-to saint for many an atheist (and the prototype for smarter-than-thou post-grads everywhere—kinda like how Pearl Jam is to Nickelback, y'know?). I, for one, buy it without question. You don't have to boil down his latter, headier work much to find it's all about love, eschewing greed and standing up against hypocrisy and inequality: a radical Paul of Tarsus for an era of capitalism and media run amok.
If you know Bill Hicks' work, you probably (or doubtlessly) love him and will go; if you're unfamiliar, I can't recommend this movie enough. Can't imagine it being unseated as my pick for the Golden Rock Documentary award.
On the Arkansas Times catfish scale, I give it a...
"American: The Bill Hicks Story" screens again on Friday, June 4 at 3:15 p.m. in Riverdale screen #1