Hit So Hard

by Drew Kerr on April 12, 2012

in Documentaries,Film Festivals

Hit So Hard
Limited the­at­rical release in select North American cities and avail­able through video-on-demand starting April 13th; sched­uled for DVD and Blu-ray release in June.

Hit So Hard (Director: P. David Ebersole): Screened a few weeks back as part of Toronto’s Canadian Music Week film pro­gram, Hit So Hard (sub­titled The Life & Near Death Story Of Patty Schemel) explores the former Hole drummer’s career and struggles with addic­tion, set par­tially against the back­drop of the rise and fall of the Seattle grunge scene. Director P. David Ebersole com­bines inter­views with Schemel filmed over a period of sev­eral years with archival footage, much of it shot by the drummer her­self. Ebersole also fea­tures extensive inter­views with Schemel’s former Hole band­mates Courtney Love (lead singer/guitarist), Melissa Auf der Maur (bassist), and Eric Erlandson (gui­tarist). The enter­taining inter­view seg­ments with the notori­ously unpre­dict­able Love show her at various points talking with her mouth full, sit­ting with her legs splayed over the arms of the chair she’s in, and gen­er­ally just coming across as a train wreck. These por­tions scream out for Love to get her own feature-length doc­u­mentary treatment.

Devout Hole fans will likely find much to enjoy in the wealth of behind-the-scenes footage of the band, most of which has never been seen before. For the rest of us, how­ever, it isn’t ter­ribly revealing, offering up the standard music visual doc­u­ment of mundane life in the recording studio and on the road in a variety of bus, back­stage, and hotel room set­tings (there’s also some decent live footage). One of the sub­jects Schemel’s video camera cap­tured is Kurt Cobain; she stayed at the res­id­ence he and Love shared for an extended period, and we see the Nirvana frontman in some private moments with his new­born daughter, as well as singing and playing an acoustic guitar during a brief snippet. These scenes aren’t par­tic­u­larly inter­esting and will only hold some value for Nirvana disciples.

Schemel joined Hole in 1992 and spent six years with the group, playing only on their lauded Live Through This album. The sec­tions dis­cussing the dif­fi­cult recording ses­sions for its fol­lowup, Celebrity Skin, are some of the film’s most inter­esting, as we find out that all of Schemel’s parts were replaced by a studio drummer (although she is cred­ited in the album’s liner notes). Despite bat­tling a drug addic­tion at the time, Schemel main­tains her playing was fine and that pro­ducer Michael Beinhorn played head games with her, ulti­mately turning the rest of the band against her (Beinhorn has a his­tory of dif­fi­culties working with drum­mers). Erlandson, Auf der Maur, and Love all agree that working with Beinhorn was an unpleasant exper­i­ence and now regret their decision not to show more sup­port for their band­mate, who even­tu­ally quit. At a question-and-answer ses­sion fol­lowing a Hit So Hard screening last year, Love said Beinhorn was “still a Nazi fuck” after curi­ously working with him again on Nobody’s Daughter, the 2010 Hole album that didn’t include Erlandson, Auf der Maur, or Schemel (read my review here). After leaving the band, Schemel des­cended fur­ther into drug addic­tion, unable to heed the cau­tionary tales of friends Cobain and ori­ginal Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff (who fatally over­dosed a couple of months after Cobain’s sui­cide). By the end of the 90s, Schemel’s heroin, crystal meth, and crack habits had left her home­less and turning tricks for drug money.

I found it inter­esting that whether by choice or not, Ebersole’s film doesn’t include any inter­views with either of the sur­viving mem­bers of Nirvana, nor anyone from the other two biggest 90s Seattle bands, Soundgarden or Pearl Jam. A small col­lec­tion of other 90s alt-rock con­tem­por­aries are inter­viewed, including Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon, Luscious Jackson’s Kate Schellenbach, and Roddy Bottum from Faith No More and Imperial Teen. Ebersole also expands the doc’s focal point to probe the role of women drum­mers in rock his­tory, although the fact that two of the prin­cipals inter­viewed are the drum­mers from The Go-Go’s and The Bangles doesn’t add much musical cred­ib­ility to the dis­cus­sion, quite frankly. In my eyes, a glar­ingly obvious omis­sion to any dis­cus­sion of women in rock, par­tic­u­larly because they’re actu­ally from Seattle, are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson. Through Schemel’s own exper­i­ence as a les­bian in the music industry, Ebersole also briefly explores the his­tory of gay women in rock and the adversity they’ve faced.

The documentary’s biggest neg­ative is that it fails to present a fully-formed pic­ture of the drummer’s post-Hole life. Schemel recounts calling Love for fin­an­cial help while home­less, but there’s no sense or indic­a­tion from the inter­views with Love, Erlandson, or Auf der Maur of whether or not any of them cur­rently have a rela­tion­ship with her. They all speak warmly and caringly of Schemel; Auf der Maur, in par­tic­ular, was quite close with her during their time in the band, and it would have been nice if Ebersole had defined this cru­cial ele­ment. One of the things I enjoyed about the movie was that it didn’t deliver a seen-it-before ending where Schemel makes a tri­umphant return to the music busi­ness. We see her sober, hap­pily mar­ried, and ful­filled with a new­found career in the dog care busi­ness. As Ebersole tells it, Schemel essen­tially aban­doned any ser­ious pur­suits in the music industry after get­ting her life straightened out, occa­sion­ally playing in a band with her brother and acting as a drum instructor/mentor to young women. Upon fur­ther research, how­ever, I found that the dir­ector egre­giously failed to include the facts that Schemel actu­ally recorded with Juliette And The Licks (the punk band fea­turing act­ress Juliette Lewis), toured with Imperial Teen, and col­lab­or­ated with Love a couple more times: in a short-lived band called Bastard and again on Love’s 2004 America’s Sweetheart solo album. On the latter, Schemel co-wrote five songs (incor­rectly listed as ten song­writing credits on the album’s Wikipedia page) and con­trib­uted drum tracks to the project.

Schemel’s story should make for a more com­pel­ling viewing exper­i­ence than Hit So Hard delivers. The highly like­able musician’s col­ourful and har­rowing tale make her a primo doc­u­mentary sub­ject, but the film’s incom­plete­ness under­mines the end result.

Official site of the film

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