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Hit So Hard (2011)
Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/5/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/5/2012
I watch documentaries every now and then, but not enough to consider myself an expert on them. Thus, I don't know who to blame. Documentaries used to tell their stories in chronological order. They would start at the beginning and then explore the subject to the logical conclusion. But, then someone, I don't know who, decided that documentaries should be artsy, and be more like narrative films. Therefore, we began getting documentaries which would begin in the middle and then work their ways backwards and forwards in time. The first few times I saw this technique, it was interesting, but then, it got very old, as I simply wanted to learn the story. This issue comes up in the music documentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death of Patty Schemel.
Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death of Patty Schemel focuses on Schemel, who was the drummer for the band Hole during their most popular and active period. Born in a small town in Washington, Patty never felt that she fit in, as she liked alternative music and she was a lesbian. Moving to Seattle, Patty made some connections and get an audition with Hole. She met with Courtney Love, who was accompanied by Kurt Cobain, and she was suddenly in the band. While Patty didn't play on the hit album Live Through This, she did play on the band's worldwide tour. She bonded with the band's other new member, bassist Melissa Auf de Maur. However, the pressure of life on the road exacerbated Patty's pre-existing drinking and drug problem, and soon she was strung out every night. From there, Patty's life began to spin out of control, and music became secondary to drugs.
When Vh-1's Behind the Music debuted in 1997, it set a new standard for documenting the lives and careers of musical artists. Yes, the show was cheesy and sensationalistic at times, and it's been spoofed on many occasions, but there's no denying that it did its job. And, there's also no denying that the show was addictive, as it progressed through a musicians early years, focused on their success, explored their eventual downfall, and then ended with an update on the present. Is it because of this show that music documentaries now want to go out of their way to make things complicated?
Hit So Hard basically starts in the middle of Patty's life, as it immediately jumps into the Hole years. Let's be honest, the name Patty Schemel means nothing to most people, but many know of Hole and Courtney Love, so it's understandable why Director P. David Ebersole would want to open the film this way. But, it also defeats the power of his narrative. About half-way through the film, the focus shifts to Patty's childhood and upbringing. The story would have meant much more if it had started with Patty's small-town roots and moved on to her playing stages around the world.
No documentary is perfect and many leave unanswered questions, but there are more than normal with Hit So Hard. Maybe finances don't seem that important to those in the entertainment industry, but they can be fascinating to a general audience. While the movie explores Patty's descent into addiction, it doesn't discuss where the money was coming from, or how much she had. She does mention being broke and having ask Courtney Love for help, but there are no specifics. Patty 's brother Larry is interviewed many time during the course of the film, and we are told that he and Patty were in a band together and that she took her first drink with him, but this isn't fully explored. The most confounding section of the movie comes with Patty's dismissal from Hole. It's obvious that this part of the movie thinks it's being detailed, but we are left with questions like "Did Love fight to keep her in the band?" or "Were any steps taken to help her?"
In some respects, Hit So Hard may be one of the odder documentaries which I've seen lately. It's clear that Ebersole put a lot of work into the film, as it contains interviews with Schemel done over a period of years. Ebersole has also assembled a great variety of interviews. Not only do we hear from Courtney Love (more on that in a moment), but fellow Hole members Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf de Maur. Also included are Gina Schock of The Go-Gos, Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt, Roddy Bottum of Faith No More, and NPR's Sarah Vowell. These speakers offer some insight into the story, but it's never enough. Of course, Love is worth watching as she's such a train-wreck and her comments and demeanor are nearly worth the price of admission alone. One of (decidedly morbid) selling points of the movie is that it contains footage of Kurt Cobain and the home movies here, many with his daughter Frances Bean, are undeniably interesting, as they show him out of the spotlight. Still, nothing can change the fact that Hit So Hard feels decidedly incomplete. I felt that the movie was a companion piece to a book which I didn't know that I was supposed to have read. For example, Ebersole sites the 70s band Fanny as another band with a lesbian drummer. But, he presents this as something of which we were already supposed to be aware. I feel that I know a lot about music and I've never heard of Fanny. There's no doubt that Schemel's story is interesting, especially as it pertains to the sad history of Seattle musicians, but Hit So Hard merely scratches the surface and leaves the viewer unfulfilled. Of course, it's never a good sign when a documentary can't make good in the promise of it's title, as we never hear anything about Schemel nearly dying.
Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death of Patty Schemel will enrage Foo Fighters fans on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. As the footage was taken was a variety of sources, the aspect ratio changes, but the bulk of the movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. Given the variety of footage, the video quality level vacillates throughout the film. The home movie footage is often grainy and shows interference. We also get news footage which looks as if it were taken from Youtube. Of course, this isn't the transfer's fault. Any new footage is very sharp and clear, showing good colors and stability. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. Again, some of the audio on the home movies is distorted and the music can sound tinny in the archive footage. But, the interviews are clear and music used to highlight Hole sounds very good.
The Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death of Patty Schemel Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director P. David Ebersole and Patty Schemel. "Patty's Home Movies" (64 minutes) contains 24 segments which Schemel shot on Hole's world tour, as it shows the band in Australia, Japan, Paris, and several U.S. cities. Ian Astbury of The Cult makes an appearance here, and we get an extended look at the band rehearsing for MTV Unplugged, where Courtney Love plays with her daughter on her lap. "Q&A at the Museum of Modern Art with Hole" (10 minutes) takes place after a screening of the film where Director P. David Ebersole and Schemel, Love, and others appear on-stage. The audio here isn't very good. "Hole Makes a Fan a Star" (7 minutes) is an interview with the woman who is featured in the film in a scene where Courtney Love plucks someone from the audience and teaches them to play guitar. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the movie.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long