Granted, we would have been inclined to declare “American: The Bill Hicks Story” essential viewing regardless of its quality, because Hicks was one of the greatest comics, philosophers and preachers who ever lived. (There is a reason he was a member of the inaugural class of Bullz-Eye’s Stand-Up Hall of Fame.) As it turns out, “American” is essential viewing for reasons that go far beyond its subject matter. Never have we seen a documentary, especially one about a comedian, handled with such a personal touch.
The film digs into Hicks’ upbringing and his humble beginnings doing improv as a 14-year-old in Houston, and the rebels who assisted him on his quest. The interviewees are almost exclusively family members and childhood friends, with nary a single famous comic to be found (a most welcome change of pace). The movie’s most unique touch, though, is the animation, as the filmmakers used family photos of Hicks, his family and friends, and visually re-created the various stories interview subjects would tell, so that it looked as though you were actually witnessing these events happening. It’s a brilliant move, and one that will likely be borrowed repeatedly in the upcoming years.
The DVD’s second disc, meanwhile, will have Hicksophiles positively geeking out. There are never-before-seen clips, deleted scenes, extended interviews, and featurettes galore (over 90 minutes of ’em). Newcomers will be enthralled by the material; fans will love it for its grace. And the bonus features. (BBC/2 Entertain 2011)