If you were a certain kind of 13-year-old girl in the mid-’90s — and rest assured, I was — few things are more exciting than seeing Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf der Maur, and Patty Schemel together. So, my inner child was in a pretty good place last night, when Hole’s best (living) line-up took the stage at MoMA for a Q&A after a screening of Hit So Hard, David Ebersole’s documentary about Schemel.
The film came about when Schemel asked her friend Ebersole for advice about how to preserve the footage she shot during her time in Hole. While digitizing the Hi-8 clips, she found herself telling the filmmaker the stories behind them, and together they realized that there was a documentary in the former Hole drummer’s memories and struggle.
Hit So Hard is a mixed bag: It follows Schemel’s years in the band, from 1992 through the recording of Celebrity Skin . Punctuated by the death of Kurt Cobain and then, shortly after, Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, those years also encompass the band’s creative peak, 1994’s Live Through This. Interviews with Schemel, Love, Erlandson, and Auf der Maur (who took over as bassist, somewhat reluctantly, after Pfaff’s overdose) supplement the footage Schemel shot on the road and during the time she lived with Love and Cobain in Los Angeles.
Most compelling — and truly heartbreaking — are the inside glimpses of casual gatherings that become spontaneous sing-alongs and intimate scenes of Cobain and Love with their baby daughter, Frances. What we see is a real, loving but doomed family. Love later said that she was seeing Hit So Hard for the first time that night, and I imagine these moments must have been painful for her to watch.
Schemel’s story is largely one of addiction, relapse, and recovery; after getting drunk for the first time at age 12, she spent most of her life wasted on alcohol, then heroin, then crack. After quitting Hole during the Celebrity Skin sessions, when she learned that her parts would be replaced by a “Johnny One-Take” drummer-for-hire, she quickly squandered her money and ended up a crackhead on the streets. Briefly, she alludes to selling her body.
Ebersole weaves in other stories of Schemel: She was forced to come out of the closet in high school, after making a failed pass at a female friend. As a teenager, she formed bands with her brother, Larry, and other outsider pals; now, she and Larry are playing together again. At six years sober, Schemel has married her partner, and they have a baby. She runs a dog daycare and mentors girls who want to be drummers. In years’ worth of interviews, Schemel comes across and smart, wryly funny, and very likable; in one interview, Love remembers that she even had a sense of humor about her crack addiction while she was in the midst of it.
It’s hard not to fall into the Behind the Music arc when telling this kind of story, and Ebersole’s film does sometimes feel like a supersize episode of the show. It’s a bit too long, the sequence and pacing are off, and many of the effects (split-screen, visual filters) seem amateurish. Too often, pink-and-white title cards featuring quotes from the interviews take the place of real transitions. It’s a movie Hole (and maybe Nirvana) fans will want to see, but others may find their attention flagging.
When the lights came up, Ebersole invited everyone involved in the film onto the stage, from Schemel’s partner and baby to that iconic Hole line-up. While everyone who cares about such things had been speculating that Love and Erlandson would fight, everyone behaved themselves. Love, looking painfully thin but generally calm, remarked upon her unfortunate “choice in eyeshadow” for her interview and fielded a question about what she was eating during her conversation with Ebersole (butter cookies).
Someone asked Schemel whether there was anything anyone could have said to get her to stop abusing drugs. Of course, she said there was not.
Love broke in, eventually, to discuss the session musician who notoriously merciless producer Michael Beinhorn replaced Schemel with on Celebrity Skin. After noting that she used Beinhorn on her most recent album, Nobody’s Daughter, and that he is “still a Nazi fuck,” she asked her band mates whether they thought it was a “Gen X thing” that they didn’t realize at the time that many major albums are recorded using ghost drummers. “I didn’t really know that kind of thing went on,” Schemel admitted. Then Erlandson made a crack about selling out and Love repeated a chestnut from her friend Billie Joe Armstrong, that “selling out is when there are no more tickets at Madison Square Garden.” For a moment there, it appeared we were getting a glimpse of why Hole disintegrated in the early ’00s; Love and the other members still don’t seem to agree on what being in a band actually means.
The evening ended when an audience member wanted to know what was next for the former members of Hole, separately or — hint, hint — together. “We scheduled our first gardening party,” Erlandson cracked. “We’re gonna plant some pea sprouts.”
It was Love who finally addressed the elephant in the room: “If something’s not relevant, I don’t want to do it,” she said, affirming that she would only be interested in a new project (or, ostensibly, a reunion) “if it’s not miserable, and it’s moving forward.” But, as Gothamist points out, “Schemel recently told Billboard, ‘Nothing has been discussed, but I have a feeling… Who knows.'” Who knows, indeed!
Watch the full Q&A below:
Hit So Hard trailer: