Lebanon & American: The Bill Hicks Story
A mixed bag this weekend as I headed over to the Greenwich Picture House for a double-bill, after a particularly exhausting week I think I deserved some cinematic pampering. The first choice of movie wasn’t quite the relaxing, soothing picture that I needed, Lebanon is the story of a four man Israeli tank crew who were part of the incursion by the IDF into their neighbours territory back in 1982, the films director Samuel Moaz exorcising his demons of an experience that has haunted him for the past twenty years since as a young man he was a member of an identical tank crew who served in that controversial conflict. After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival last year there has been a modicum of buzz around this project, I was intrigued to see how the filmmakers would pull off a tale that was filmed entirely within the environs of the tank with no cut-aways or establishing shots, only a series of POV shots of our four main characters would serve as a window to the outside world and the hellish barbarity that is unfolding.
That visual conceit is paradoxically the films strength in one sense and failure in the other. No doubt the premise generates a sweltering sense of claustrophobia which is reminiscent of that other great war movie Das Boot with its similarly charged adrenaline of a group of terrified troops trapped in a confined environment; you can almost sense the choking stench of their mobile coffin in the auditorium. Everything is framed in tight close-up to harness this tension, however the technique actually becomes quite irritating and repetitive after a while. Maybe it was the mild hangover I was suffering after a few too many in my local on Friday night but after twenty, thirty minutes of four guys screaming at each other I started to get a little bored, the characters are almost indistinguishable from each other so its hard to care about any of them. The sound design quite appropriately is used to great effect, the shrieking roar of the steel behemoth as it transverse over the battlefields is quite arresting – the film very much achieves the feeling of being there, engulfed amongst the horror, the danger and the terror. Lebanon is less overtly political than I expected, its intentions seems broader than examining the socio-political context of that particular Middle Eastern conflict and following the line of its predecessor Waltz With Bashir, it seems to be aiming for a wider ‘war is hell’ target, not exactly a new idea and a somewhat exhausted premise. Lebanon is something of a noble failure which at a brisk 90 minutes doesn’t completely outstay its welcome, perhaps one for the combat movie devotees only.
Far more efficient and entertaining was American: The Bill Hicks Story which followed, hardly a surprising choice for me to see as the man is one of my all time heroes. If you’ve seen the widely praised Robert Evans biopic The Kid Stays In The Picture then this documentaries design will be familiar – Bill Hicks life is brought to vivid life through the adoption of photos of his childhood, teenage years and faltering steps to comedic stardom which are manipulated into a form of loose animation, a technique supported with voiceover reminiscences and anecdotes not from cultural commentators or fellow humorists but from Bill’s family and friends, the people who were there and saw firsthand the development and growth of a uniquely blistering talent. For the layman this provides an entertaining and comprehensive overview of the Hicks phenomenon and his elevation to the pantheon of one of the all time great stand-up comedians, even if it is a little light on the potential psychology and events that turbo charged the man to adopt such a combative and unique stage persona.
Having the full co-operation of family and friends yields some fascinating material for a Hicks completist such as yours truly, when you bear in mind I have over 100 hours of material I have accumulated over the years sitting on my hard drive, mostly full sets from his tours of the late eighties and early nineties then you can appreciate what a treasure trove it is to absorb some of the earlier material that is unearthed including footage of his tentative performances at the remarkable age of fifteen and sixteen – even back then you could see the genesis of his hatred of authority and loathing of hypocrisy. American doesn’t shy away from tackling the darkest moments of his career and doesn’t fall into the trap of lionising his alcohol and drug fuelled rants which were not entertaining, cool or edgy but slightly pathetic and potentially fatally destructive, it is the figure of a reborn, newly sober and far more illuminating, scabrous and most importantly funny comedian arising from those ashes which is inspiring to behold. I was personally interested to learn more of the Houston ‘Outlaw Comics’ movement that Hicks was a part of although I was a little disappointed to see the figure of Sam Kinison almost entirely air-brushed from the biography, according to all the books I’ve read on the subject he was something of a mentor figure to the rising star of Hicks, I can only assume there were some issues with the Kinison estate to use footage of him (he died of a drug overdose in 1992) or perhaps his influence has been over exaggerated over the years. A great documentary for the fan and freshman alike, inevitably here are some more clips of the great man in action to brighten up your Monday evening:
And some more: