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Hit So Hard

2011 | 103 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Hit So Hard


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Theatrical release date

 13 April, 2012
 16 November, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel Blu-ray

Hit So Hard Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 11, 2012

The account of a music star hit with a debilitating drug addiction while facing turmoil in their band isn’t anything new, inspiring scores of documentaries and bio-pics. What’s fresh here is the subject, with director P. David Ebersole investigating the life and times of Patty Schemel, the openly lesbian drummer for the band Hole, who spent a good chunk of her career sitting behind Courtney Love, absorbing her never-ending drama on a nightly basis. “Hit So Hard” is familiar in its examination of personal ruin and fortysomething redemption, but the alternative music era on display here brings a unique perspective to Schemel’s story. It also helps to have such a charismatic subject, who’s open and honest about her mistakes, hopes, and fears as she recalls her experiences as a female drummer, her wasted years, and her time as a cog in the Courtney Love machine.

Born in 1967 in Maryville, Washington, Patty Schemel grew up with a profound love of music, looking for like-minded souls able to appreciate punk and assorted buzzsaw sounds of rebellion as she matured throughout the 1980s. Finding the slam-bang feel of the drums to be a type of therapy, Schemel worked her way through a handful of local bands, eventually finding her way to Seattle at the dawn of the grunge movement, and then to Los Angeles, where she auditioned for Courtney Love in the early 1990s, finding herself faced with an unusual quandary: continue working for Microsoft or shake the world as the drummer for Hole? Accepting the test of a rock star life, Schemel joined the group, then a floundering band tied to the growing popularity of Kurt Cobain, who married Love in 1992. Growing friendly with Cobain while working her way into the tempestuous group dynamic, Schemel found her place as a perennial clown and dependable performer, guiding Hole to some of their most consistent stage work.

The jewels of “Hit So Hard” come in the form of home videos shot during the “Live Through This” tour, where Hole acquired its greatest success riding the transformation of grunge as it peaked as a major mainstream music trend. Ebersole liberally stitches in camcorder footage, showing Hole performing and playing around backstage, with Schemel often captured hunting for comedic moments, or just simply basking in the glow of her crazy life, sent around the world to entertain millions of fans. The recordings are endearing, including the opportunity to watch Cobain and Love monkey around with their infant daughter, Frances. The footage is also haunting, observing zonked-out onstage nonsense from Love, while Schemel’s own battle with drug addiction is detected in her gaunt, lifeless appearance, finding her inner light snuffed out as she descended into heroin and crack abuse. Interviews with the likes of Love (billed here as “Courtney Love Cobain”), Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, family members, admirers, and fellow musicians are enlightening, but the real find of the feature is found in these private moments with Schemel and her whirlwind life, spotlighting the exhilaration of the time, which gave way to frustrations concerning her musical expression.

Schemel’s chemical experience is covered in full, with numerous stints in rehab failing to keep the drummer clean, plunging further into darkness after the 1994 overdose death of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff (who died two months after Kurt Cobain). Further humiliation is surveyed during the “Celebrity Skin” recording sessions, where Schemel was replaced by a studio drummer under the direction of ruthless producer Michael Beinhorn. There was also a question of sexuality, with Schemel openly gay, though never able to make a relationship stick during this tumultuous period in her life. By the end of the 1990s, it seemed Schemel was a lost cause, without a home and a band to call her own.

Mercifully, “Hit So Hard” doesn’t track the downward spiral to disaster. The picture focuses on Schemel’s efforts of rehabilitation and the newfound stability of her life, finding love and peace from unlikely sources, while making sure to guide a new generation of female drummers into the spotlight, encouraging bravery and discipline. While it touches on dark elements of self-destruction, “Hit So Hard” remains in a positive place, handling a chaotic history with skill and occasional focus. For fans of Hole and the alternative music scene in general, it’s an eye-opening look at the mechanics of the band and the camaraderie of the era. For outsiders, Schemel’s story is actually quite inspirational, detailing admirable personal growth and acceptance while clinging to a forceful musical gift.

Starring: Patty Schemel, Courtney Love
Director: P. David Ebersole

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