Monday night’s screening of Hit So Hard, a documentary chronicling the debilitating drug addiction of former Hole drummer Patty Schemel, began nostalgically with everyone waiting for Courtney Love to arrive.
“We’ll see if she shows up,” said founding guitarist Eric Erlandson. “Patty will be disappointed if she isn’t here to support her.”
For the first time in 13 years, all four members of the band’s most classic line-up — Love, Erlandson, Schemel, and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur — were expected to “reunite” in the theater at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, although no one could agree on what, exactly, that meant. Was a musical performance a possibility?
“There’s been a lot of discussion about a [proper reunion] and I can’t say whether it will happen [in the future],” said Schemel, who quit the band during the recording of 1997’s Celebrity Skin after producer Michael Beinhorn brought in a session drummer to perform some of her parts. “But I love my old band and it’s always been fun to make music with them.”
Erlandson, still disgruntled by Love’s use of the Hole moniker for last year’s Nobody’s Daughter, said, “We’re still not seeing eye to eye and nothing has been resolved. But I’m open to all possibilities.” Schemel sided with Erlandson: “Hole is the sound of Eric’s guitar with Courtney singing.” Auf der Maur, who left the band in 1999, was less ambiguous about any future involvement: “It hasn’t crossed my mind.”
Arriving 30 minutes after the screening was scheduled to begin, a modestly-coiffed and mildly grumpy Love put any rumors to rest. “There haven’t been rumblings — you’re making that up!” she scolded reporters. Then she went into the theater so the movie could start.
Despite some palpable tension, the one-time bandmates stayed to watch the documentary, which is necessary viewing for any diehard Hole fan. Director P. David Ebersole got the idea for the film in 2007 when Schemel asked him for help digitizing her video archive. The footage was ample and intimate — scenes of Schemel passed out in her hotel room after shooting heroin, Love moshing backstage at Lollapalooza with the Offspring’s Dexter Holland and, most eerily, Love at home with Kurt Cobain and Frances Bean.
At one point, Love whispers to an infant Frances: “We were worried tonight about your daddy. We thought he was dead.” From behind the camera, Cobain says, “I would never leave my girls.”
It’s heartbreaking and, at times, moments like these — Cobain goofing around in Frances’ playpen, Love taking a bath with her daughter, Love and Cobain singing a never-before-heard song, “Stinking of You” — threaten to overshadow the film’s subject. Schemel, who’d started drinking at the age of 12, first flirted with self-destruction during the recording of 1994’s Live Through This. She was high on meth when laying down the drums for “Miss World,” and she and then-bassist Kristen Pfaff struggled to hide their various substance abuses from each other while scoring from the same dealer.
Four days before Live Through This was released, Cobain was found dead, and two months later, Pfaff OD’ed, thus beginning the most morbidly memorable Hole tour ever. Onstage, Love took to grieving with a ferocity that manifested itself in her screaming and tossing herself into the pit where male fans ripped the trademark slips from her body.
Schemel’s own problems (11 stints in rehab, all told) were easily overlooked at the time, but Hit So Hard successfully captures the vibe during the height of their fame — seething, secretive, and out-of-control. The comparably easygoing Auf der Maur was right to be wary of joining a band in the midst of such misery.
In an interview in the film, Love, a Baby Jane doppelganger in garish yellow eye shadow and heavy lipstick, rehashes the band’s sordid history between bites of shortbread cookies. But Schemel’s mom provides the emotional center, recalling how a devastated young Patty came out to her after unsuccessfully making a pass at a girlfriend, and also providing very mom-like moments of levity: “I used to get very annoyed when they put the camera on the singer.”
During the worst phase of her crack addiction, Schemel was homeless and begging for money. But the film has a happy ending: She’s been clean for five years, runs her own dog daycare, and is married to the film’s coproducer, Christina Soletti.
Taking the stage afterwards, Erlandson, Auf der Maur, Love, and Schemel brokered an uneasy truce — at one point, Love turned to Schemel to ask if being kicked off Celebrity Skin would really be that big of a deal now that she’s more mature and sober. “Would you have gotten so windbreaker-y?” Love asked, referring to Schemel’s wardrobe choices while homeless.
Schemel admitted that it would still be hard, but neither she nor any of the members blame Love for Schemel’s problems. Still, despite the audience’s cheers at the mention of a reunion, Love was unrelenting and unapologetic on that topic: “If it’s not about moving forward, I’m not going to do it.”