Film Review: Hit So Hard

Gripping documentary about the rise, fall and recovery of charismatic Hole drummer Patty Schemel looks at so much more along the bumpy way. A revealing peephole into rock ’n’ roll success and disaster.

There’s a whole lotta self-destruction goin’ on within the rich trove of material in P. David Ebersole Hit So Hard, which hits hard and very entertainingly as a cinematic backstage pass into bad behavior. Openly gay former Hole drummer Patty Schemel, an addiction survivor today, speaks candidly about her drama-filled past: teen years, when she took on the drums in high-school bands and struggled with her lesbianism in rural Washington state; her later rise to fame in the 1990s as drummer for the Courtney Love Cobain’s multi-platinum-selling band Hole and frequent rock magazine cover girl, and her horrendous crash to a near-fatal life on L.A.’s mean streets.

Schemel’s destiny was unexpected. Her mom Terry laments that in the early ’90s her daughter gave up a job at Microsoft to go to L.A. for the music. Schemel thrived and indulged promiscuously in alcohol and drugs, but lost it later in the decade when a much-maligned producer brought in a pal, a “Johnny One Note,” to take Schemel’s place at a Hole recording session. After other setbacks, she landed penniless and homeless on the L.A. streets, turning tricks to earn money for drugs. In the early 2000s, she emerged from a shelter for women and turned her life around remarkably, a denouement that must be seen.

Beyond Schemel’s compelling story, there’s much more in Hit So Hard. Speaking generously for this doc are Hole leader Love (looking feisty but fueled) and the band’s Melissa Auf der Maur and Eric Erlandson. There’s abundant archival footage of concert dates worldwide, including the famous Lollapalooza world tour, and home movies of band members. On view are the hippie-like Courtney and Kurt with their newborn and scenes of their “highnesses” Love and Schemel goofing off, often with other Hole members, or taunting the cameras. A riff on John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed has Schemel and fellow redhead Auf der Maur stretched out and holding forth. The doc’s band-at-leisure footage is so plentiful, it’s as if one of them had had a joint or worse in one hand and a camera in the other. Among the saddest players seen in the archival material are Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, and Hole bass player Kristen Pfaff, who OD’d not long after.

Besides plenty of music, this energetic doc gains visual panache and pulsating rhythms from Ebersole’s use of split-screens, rotoscoped animation of Patty on drums, provocative chapter intertitles (e.g., “Seeing the Demons”) that help explain where the film is taking us, and editing that never lets viewers turn away.

While ultimately a celebration of survival and recovery, the movie is also a tribute to female rock drummers, including The Go-Gos’ Gina Schock and The Beastie Boys’ Kate Schellenbach, among others cited.

With so much to see, hear, learn and feel, Hit So Hard really is a kind of high.