In summer 2007, Hole drummer Patty Schemel came to her friend P. David Ebersole with a suitcase full of Hi8 tapes she shot over her years with the band. Along with images of Hole members Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf der Maur, late bassist Kristen Pfaff and Courtney Love, Schemel's camera documented the family interactions of Love, her husband Kurt Cobain and daughter Frances Bean. Ebersole, who lives around the corner from Schemel and met her through mutual friend Joe Mama-Nitzberg, told her, "I think you have a movie in this." Shortly after, Schemel asked Ebersole if he'd be interested in making the film with his producing partner/husband, Todd Hughes.
[Editor's Note: This interview originally ran during Indiewire's coverage of the 2011 ND/NF Festival. "Hit So Hard" opens in select theaters this Friday.]
After collecting and digitizing the footage, Ebersole slowly amassed interviews. ("Patty very gingerly opened the door for us.") These include auf der Maur, the rest of Hole, Love, Erlandson, Schemel's mother, various music industry players and a variety of women rockers. The film that resulted, "Hit So Hard," seamlessly weaves Schemel's life into what the New Directors/New Films programmers call "anything but a sanitized VH1 hagiography."
The archival footage, shocking and disorienting in its intimacy, helps tell the story of the band's rise to fame and the forces that led to its dissolution. The story also chronicles Schemel's lifelong struggle with addiction, marks her place in the pantheon of female drummers and rockers and — through a precious story told by her mother — tells how she came out.
Monday evening at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the band reunited after not being together in the same room for more than a decade. After pushing the screening back by nearly an hour due to two of the band members' late arrivals (bassist auf der Maur quipped, "Now you all know what it felt like"), Ebersole described the press line as a "maelstrom of attention," the special moment he could only hope for in putting together this film.
Ebersole said he was a big fan of Hole's breakout album, "Live Through This," but neither he nor Hughes considered himself a part of the grunge scene.
"There was a lot of education involved," Ebersole said. "We didn't know anything about Schemel's earlier bands or earlier scenes. The bands that were mentioned, we might have heard their names before but never their music. That gave the film a really strong perspective; it's not insiders making this movie. When we interviewed, we would get longer, more complete explanations of everything.
"We started easy, throwing Patty softball questions," he said. "She immediately wanted to tell her larger story. We'd ask her about her current dog business and she started talking about it in terms of recovery. We'd show her concert footage and ask her what that show was like and she'd talk about how high she was."
Schemel's emotions evolved as they continued the project. "When we started shooting her in 2007, she was two years' sober," Ebersole said. "She was afraid and embarrassed, ambivalent toward Hole and unsure if she was ready for forgiveness."
The film's final act sees the demise of Hole as a band, after Schemel was asked not to play on the album "Celebrity Skin." The film portrays producer Michael Beinhorn as the orchestrator of her exit; during the screening, Love — who, like the rest of the band, was seeing the film for the first time — yelled at the screen several times when Beinhorn came on screen.
At the post-screening Q&A, Love said she worked with Beinhorn producer on her last album: "He's still a Nazi." She then asked Schemel if she would have left the band over the rift if they weren't all a part of Gen X, obsessed with authenticity and individuality. The question was clearly rhetorical, a chance for Love to think out loud and to begin understanding what happened between them all.
While Ebersole clearly appreciated the audience's rapturous response, he was just as pleased by the reactions of those closest to the material. "It was a relief to show it to Patty's brother and have him say 'You hit it right on the head,'" Ebersole said. "Having the band members witness the breakup from Patty's side, I think that was an incredible opportunity.
"The film was a part of their healing process," Ebersole said. "All up to the point of what happened last night, they had not talked about those issues for 10 years. As Melissa [auf der Maur] said, 'We're not here for Hole, we're here because Patty's still alive.'"