Not least considering the sheer amount of high-profile figures who dominated grunge’s heyday in the early 1990s, it may seem curious – that is on the surface – that P. David Ebersole opted to delve into the backstory of Hole’s relatively shy-and-retiring Patty Schemel in his 2011 documentary Hit So Hard. But it’s a thought that, sans facts, neglects not only the drummer’s vital involvement in one of the generation’s biggest bands, but the heady, tragic lives of those whose personal lives often eclipsed the music.
In focusing on one of the scene’s more unassuming characters, Ebersole traces hugely engrossing narrative. Chronicling Schemel’s early life, career and descent into crack cocaine addiction throughout the 1990s, the bulk of Ebersole’s profile feels much like a collaboration with Schemel’s past self. Having discovered a cache of Hi8 video footage that she recording during a 1994 Hole world tour, the drummer offered up a rare, thoroughly real insight into the pure-cut chaos that comes with living with addiction in the public eye (in 1994, Schemel’s close friend, Kurt Cobain and bandmate Kristen Pfaff died two months apart, both aged 27.)
But, as it unravels, Hit So Hard feels much more than another doom-laden retrospective, fixated with the minesweeping blight of how drugs effectively obliterated a generation’s musical landscape. After all, Schemel – just like Courtney Love and many others – managed to come out largely unscathed, in the end. Now six years sober, Schemel’s narration is equal parts candid and wry. Having played such an elemental role, largely tempering the chaos that surrounded her, she delves into her own winding tale of fame, sexuality, addiction and recovery, and – with Ebersole in tow – delivers a film that bridges the present with the past, the tragedy with the reprieve, and the personal with the much bigger picture. Brian Coney
Hit So Hard is screening at Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre on Wednesday, September 4th at 7pm. Buy tickets here.
This event is part of Mixtape, a music film season collaboration between Feature and Oh Yeah, with new films on the first Wednesday of every month.