Describing the parabolic ups and downs of the career of Hole drummer Patty Schemel, tricked-up docu “Hit So Hard” features never-before-witnessed tour documentation recorded on Schemel’s own Hi-8 camera, including her extended stay at the digs of band frontwoman Courtney Love just before Kurt Cobain’s suicide. This recently recovered ace-in-the-Hole footage is supplemented by helmer P. David Ebersole’s newly shot interviews, presented in split-screen or apportioned in brief bursts. Though stylistically incoherent at times, pic benefits from the percussionist’s plainspokenness, and should attract grunge curiosity-seekers in theatrical and tube play.
Schemel’s video-within-the-film presents a visual diary of Hole’s 1995 tour, performing hits from the album “Live Through This.” Bus interiors and sold-out auditoriums in Los Angeles, Detroit, Vancouver, London, Paris and Osaka, compete for attention with shots of bandmates Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf Der Maur and, of course, Love. Ebersole also includes an unexpected cameo from tour tagalong Drew Barrymore, who cryptically proclaims, “Our memories are all encompassed in Patty’s uterus!”
But Schemel’s video journal reaches back further to 1992, when she was a long-term guest at Love and Cobain’s “big tree house” in Carnation, Wash. Intimate domestic scenes with the couple — including glimpses of Cobain clowning with infant daughter Frances Bean or hiding in a closet to compose “In Utero” — scrupulously avoid scandal-mongering. The real problem lies in the director’s short attention span, as his source tape is not only snipped into short spurts, but presented achronologically. The images are then framed by talking-head interviews, resulting in clusters over which headline graphics like “WE WERE ALL ANGRY” are superimposed.
Professional peers Gina Schock and Debbi Peterson, drummers for girl groups the Go-Gos and the Bangles, respectively, sing Schemel’s praises. But considering the film’s fragmentation, it’s surprising that Schemel’s frank-talking, sometimes antic presence should register at all. Perhaps less surprisingly, her individuality never gets completely lost in the heroin, coke and crystal meth-soaked aura of Hole’s concert venues, as she very much belonged in this doomed atmosphere forever associated with grunge.
Not that the film lacks for explanations of this early-’90s generational mass depression. “Hit So Hard” has no shortage of hooks, but it’s never able to hold together two thoughts at the same time. A sociopolitical viewpoint, voiced by Sarah Vowell, partly ascribes this collective despair to having been reared with unrelatable role models like George H.W. Bush and the “just say no” Reagans. An astrological viewpoint maintains that the same Saturn-return hex claimed Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Cobain and original Hole bass guitarist Kristen Pfaff, all at age 27, and almost felled Schemel as well.
Schemel survived, but experienced a downfall of sorts later in the ’90s, during the making of the album “Celebrity Skin.” Ridden by a despotic record producer, forced to watch as an anonymous session musician laid down the drum tracks she herself originated, and even replaced by a near-lookalike in the MTV clip, Schemel finally lost her already tentative grasp on sobriety. From here on in, Ebersole can rely on no further add-ons to relate the story of his subject gone AWOL: In her years-long struggle as a crackhead on the street, Schemel obviously was in no position to furnish flashy video. Long dissolves and more generic cutaways are deployed, supplemented by more staid subtitles like “Six years sober,” as the drummer shares reminiscences of frequenting dopehouses, checking in and out of rehab, and slowly surviving addiction.
Time will tell if the docu sparks Hole reunion playdates.