The story of Hole drummer Patty Schemel is a cautionary tale of drugs and recovery, and a portrait of the ‘90s grunge scene. It’s not particularly distinct, but it tells the story. Focusing on the drummer makes it more of an objective perspective, as opposed to a celebrity profile. We already know the Courtney Love story.
Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death of Patty Schemel starts with 1995 footage from Schemel’s own home recordings. They look like VHS, only without the degradation of tracking problems because they were top of the line Hi-8. The new interview footage looks only slightly better, as if they only used the DV cameras from 10 years ago.
Schemel really stands out behind the drums, like a cute kid playing around. Of course those are the clips they chose for the edit, but I bet she had that energy consistently. You see the ’95 Lollapalooza tour and other major venue concerts, from the side of the stage.
Kurt Cobain shows up and the real hook for fans will be to see intimate scenes of his last days. There isn’t that much. The Cobain house looks like a grunge rock sty, and he plays with his and Love’s baby a lot. You can sense the undercurrent of anger as he makes “f*ck you” jokes with the baby and anti-social jabs at Edsel, like he blames corporations for his misery. They’re nice home movies for fans to see but nothing revealing. It’s just mundane hanging out between gigs.
The interviews with Schemel really reveal all the details of how she got into drugs (the record company had a guy who provided them) and what motivates an addict. Her mother tells the story of when she had to come out in high school.
The scandal of the “Celebrity Skin” album seems to be a sticking point for fans. The real explanation seems to be that producer Michael Beinhorn really drove Schemel out of the studio. That doesn’t seem like a major reveal to me. Producers are hard-asses. The band still broke up. I guess we can now sleep easie knowing it was a suit, not her sisters, that did it. Beinhorn even tricked Love by playing bad takes of Schemel’s tracks.
Living on the street homeless is one direction that not all tragic rock stars face. By then the film is all firsthand accounts, with but a still shot of Schemel’s old stash under the bridge. Of course she’s doing great not and the film shows you can turn it around.
I know we’re celebrating indie film and especially music here at SXSW, but I think Hit So Hard would be fine for a VH1 documentary. That’s right, Hole would be on VH1 now. It conveys the whole story and the musicians (including the survivors of Hole as well as Gina Schock, Kate Schellenbach, Nina Gordon and more) tell detailed anecdotes to complete the picture. That’s “Behind the Music,” but for a star VH1 probably couldn’t get so that’s where it pays to be director David Ebersole.