It’s hardly surprising that anyone performing alongside Courtney Love for the best part of a decade should become accustomed to taking a back-seat when it comes to stealing the headlines. Yet it’s (finally) Hole drummer Patty Schemel that takes centre stage in P. David Ebersole’s Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel (2011). Part character study of the film’s titular star, part documentary on US grunge outfit Hole, Hit So Hard offers a fascinating insight into the many trials and tribulations of being one quarter of one of rock’s most notoriously excessive, on-the-nose bands.
Arguably the least known member of the band, Schemel’s story is one that will be familiar to few. Charting her life from early childhood, the story details Schemel’s time drumming for underground bands as a teenager, through to her career with Hole and subsequent battles with drug and alcohol abuse. And while it is far from perfect, Ebersole’s film is nothing if not honest and unflinching in its depiction of a person and a band fraught with tragedy and controversy.
With significant contributions from Hole members Melissa Auf der Maur, Eric Erlandson and (of course) Courtney Love, the film goes some way to offering a well balanced view of Schemel’s time in the band. Comprised primarily of her own personal archive footage of her time in the band, along with present day interviews with friends, family and those directly involved with the band, Hit So Hard does its level best to refrain from cliché, while Schemel’s painful honesty is hugely commendable. However, whilst the story is such that both hardcore fans of the band or those unfamiliar with the group will find it difficult not to be enthralled by its subject matter, it is the film’s exposition that provides its greatest flaws.
First and foremost, the infuriating frames that regularly blight the film with quotes lend a garish and cheap quality to proceedings; when Erlandson is talking about the emotional fallout following two deaths surrounding the band in the space of two months, a bright pink quotation of his upcoming words hardly bolsters the moment’s poignancy. Equally low-rent is the original score – a generic grunge sound that plays through most of the movie. Also adding to the cheap and tacky feel is the deployment of some shoddy double-vision effects designed to heighten the impact of a moment in which Schemel is talking about her developing heroin addiction. Needless to say, this has the opposite effect.
In many ways, Hit So Hard ultimately emerges as a compelling story of rock ‘n’ roll excess from one of the genre’s lesser known figures. While its minor issues do detract slightly from the overall tone of the movie, they are not enough to prevent it from being one of the most fascinating rockumentaries in recent years.