QDoc Friday night film review: ‘Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel’

Patty Schemel with Hole, for Rolling Stone in the 1995 issue where she came out. From L Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, Schemel, Melissa Auf der Maur

For any rock fan who was a teen of the 90s Seattle grunge reigned supreme and Hole was its seat of feminine power. The seminal grrl grunge group was fronted but the unmistakable, if not always likeable, Courtney Love, wife and baby momma to the most well known grunge persoanlity of all time,, the late Kurt Cobain, frontman for Nirvana. But as big a personality as Love was, all the little baby dykes had eyes only for the lady behind the drums. Patty Schemel was a kick ass ginger drummer with heart, and she was gay.

She was also a drug addict, alcoholic, friend, and now wife and mother. Five years ago, at the beginning of her new sober life, she came across archival footage taken during Hole’s 1995 world tour and thought to digitize the memories. Instead, it became, Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel a documentary of her amazing journey.

At first the sound levels are distracting and jarring, going from extremely loud to much too soft in an instant. This is understandable for the 90s Hi-8 footage, which has already started to degrade, but unacceptable for the recent interviews. Hopefully, however, this is just a function of the screener copy.

Even so, this minor annoyance fades quickly when you get into Patty’s story. It’s tender and fun as we watch home movies of her with Kurt and Courtney and little pudgy baby Frances Bean but turns quickly as first Cobain, then first Hole drummer Kristen Pfaff die within 3 months of each other. SchemelĀ  comes close to death herself, even in the midst of this grief and after.

She confesses terrible truths, like having her first drink at 12 and thinking it her first love, “If I’m on a date with Angelina Jolie and there’s a bum with a crackpipe…I’m hangin’ out with the bum.” She recounts a time in LA after being kicked out of the band where she had sunk so low that she would do anything for drugs. Schemel alludes to her sex work without going into too much detail, but also comes back to the sad parts of her story with a hilarity that made me half expect her to call herself a crack whore.

But Hit So Hard is as funny and tender as it is sad. We see Patty and bandmate Melissa Auf der Maur, messing around and talking about the perils of straight girls in the archival footage mixed with stage performances and images of Courtney Love, both old and new, as bat shit crazy as ever. And in the end it is a story of triumph and love. Schemel fits the pieces of her past together in a way that recognizes the good among the bad and emerges as a sober musician, a friend, a spouse, a dog-lover and a proud gay woman with a family. It’s a little cheesy but it works.

Stay tuned for an interview with Schemel.


Hit So Hard plays Friday June 3rd at 7p at the Clinton St Theater (2522 SE Clinton St)

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