One of the most iconic images in Hit So Hard is a simple black-and-white photo of a young girl lounging with Kurt Cobain and his baby daughter, Frances Bean. The girl, though, isn't Cobain's wife, Courtney Love — it's Hole drummer Patty Schemel.
"Patty was very nearly in Nirvana," says Love in the documentary, which will be screened at the Akron Art Museum during the Akron Film Festival, Oct. 6-9. "Patty made Kurt happy. He didn't have many friends. I just think Patty and him had a very special relationship."
Schemel, it turns out, was many things: a houseguest of Love and Cobain in 1992, an openly gay drummer in Love's band Hole from 1992 until 1998, a drug user and an amateur videographer. It's that last bit that turned out to come in handy more than a decade and a half later.
"Other people would journal back then," says Schemel, or "take photos or just document their lives." She used a video camera to catch scenes of everything from daily life at home with Cobain and Love to the crowds that showed up to Hole's 1995 tour through Tokyo. "I was digitizing a bunch of footage, just to preserve it," Schemel explains. "A friend of mine said, 'All that footage would make a really great documentary.' "
Schemel had more than 40 hours of tape boxed up in a closet. She reconnected with former bandmates and friends for interviews that appear in the film. "I would go home at the end of the day after an afternoon of watching everything and explaining what was going on, and just be with my head in that place again," she says. "It was so draining."
The film showcases intimate moments: Hole members jamming through songs they never finished, Courtney playing guitar while Kurt sang, even footage of Kurt recording Nirvana's In Utero album. But it's not all archival footage; the doc, subtitled The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel, also shows what happens after the party ends. Schemel ends up a clear-headed 44-year-old with a dog-care business, a wife and baby daughter of her own, and six years of sobriety under her belt.
"I think about it all the time," she says. "If I could go back in time and know what I know now, it would be so much better." She would tell that young girl not to fritter away her money, to think about the choices she made.
"I discovered through the process that there's a lot more to me than just being the drummer in Hole," Schemel explains. "If you hold on to something so tightly, like that career, that place I was at, it just becomes so important that if you lose it, you're just empty."