Bill Hicks ... Sane Man

Video Reviews

BILL HICKS ... Sane Man

D: Kevin Booth (1989; remastered, 1999); with Bill Hicks For what it was, the original edition of Sane Man was always pretty amazing despite its faults -- an incisive young comedian seen at the top of his form, on his home turf, in a jam-packed, hourlong set of his best material. It was an hour of Bill Hicks taking on ripe comedy subjects from the War on Drugs to the emergence of the Antichrist. It was also burdened with not too great a picture and just plain deplorable sound, which mystified viewers of other programs that featured clips from Sane Man (the posthumous Hicks documentary It's Just a Ride, for example), as the excerpts looked and sounded great. The problem, it turned out, was that yes, the original footage shot for Sane Man was all high-quality, but the substandard editing equipment that director Kevin Booth was forced to use did its best to muck up the sound on the final product, as did the misguided attempt at "sweetening" the crowd's reaction, which at the time was deemed to be less than encouraging. That's right, Sane Man originally had a laugh track! It took until last year, when Booth assembled a digital studio in his home, for a "finished" version to get under way. By that point, Hicks had spent five years gaining respect as not only a sharp, maturing comic but also as a spokesman against hypocrisy in a world rapidly going mad -- and had spent an additional five years dead, after succumbing to pancreatic cancer in early 1994. The only "new" material that was going to come from Hicks at this point was whatever is found in the vaults, as it were, so Sane Man 1999 includes an additional half-hour of footage that was edited out of the original release. Comparing the two versions, it's a tribute to the original just how much trimming Booth managed without butchering Hicks' act -- there are a few sequences of decent length making their debut here, but mostly, the original was simply tightened up, and masterfully so. Fortunately, apart from a couple of small sputters, when returned to feature length, young Hicks' act gains far more than it loses from the expansion -- besides the additional clarity of his words, the leaving in of pauses, banter with the audience, and a host of previously lost asides bear witness to Hicks' ability to work a crowd. Booth has kept and expanded the original's use of occasional cutaways to slo-mo, B&W footage of Hicks designed to break up the monotony of an hour and a half of watching one person onstage, but it's to the detriment of the finished product. Perhaps it was necessary then, in introducing Hicks to the world, but today, it's merely a jarring distraction from the words and motions of a commanding young master of the wink and the scream. Still, apart from the slight visual embellishments, this is Bill naked, full of spit and vinegar and sharp as hell, but before his emphasis shifted away from coaxing belly laughs and toward saving the world. As such, then, it's funnier than the later, bigger Hicks concert shows like Relentless (1992) and Revelations (1994) -- which makes it, simply, the funniest video on earth.

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