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Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008).(1992)

This is a raw and uncompromising look at the life of wild man writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The film goes into very explicit detail, and i cannot recall many artists or writers being this exposed.....in all their glory and depravity. Only the film on Robert Crumb (also amazing) comes to mind.

HST was a unique writer who came to life in the turbulent times of the 60's and early 70's. During this time he broke new journalistic ground by reporting everything that was happening around a big event, rather than the event itself. He did that covering the decadence of the Kentucky Derby and by being "embedded" and riding with the Hells Angels for a inside look at their culture. He also used a technique of blending the facts of an event with pure fiction. Not sure how that last one qualifies as journalism, but it was entertaining stuff at the time. There are numerous interviews and stories from contemporaries, like Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, and Tom Wolfe. There is interesting material around the US democratic convention of 1972 and George McGovern's presidential run. Here Thompson turned his sights to politics. McGovern is even interviewed for the film. There's a bit of Canadian content here too with HST talking to Peter Gzowski and admitting to fabricating a story about Senator Ed Muskies' drug problem.

The art of illustrator and close friend Ralph Steadman is featured throughout the film. His wispy, splattered, staccato drawings give a fascinating glimpse of the man. He did many drawings/caricatures of Hunter and was often on assignment with him for graphic content to accompany his writing. In many ways his art was an integral part of the Thompson vision.

The film includes a surprising amount of actual film footage of Hunter. He seemed to love hamming it up for the camera. These images add to the authenticity of the film, with wild footage of Hunter blasting away with guns. He loved guns. His wife reports he kept over 20 around the house....all loaded.

Hunter lived on the edge. He was a man of tremendous excess and at times one wonders how he was able to actually function, but he somehow did, at least long enough to produce a significant body of work. He declined in significance by the end of the 70's, but worked on and off until his not surprising self inflicted gunshot suicide in 2005. He once told his friend Steadman "he would feel real trapped if he didn't know that he could commit suicide at any moment".

He must have been very burned out towards the end.....because how could a man like HST resist the tremendous writing opportunities of the George Bush years.

One segment of the film in particular, created a indelible image of the HST for me. In the special features there is an out-take with a brief story by one of his friends. It recounts a road trip with HST to somewhere in California. Hunter is at the wheel driving at about 105 miles per hour. He has just two fingers on the wheel, because he is also smoking a cigarette secured in his usual long cigarette holder. In the other hand Hunter is holding a glass of bourbon (he consumed a bottle per day). The friend and passenger is smoking hash along the way and frequently holds the pipe up to Hunters lips so he can have a toke.


PS Since seeing the film I have looked up some of Hunters writing. I happened to have 1970 Rolling Stone article, with an account of Hunters early days in Aspen Colorado. Here he laments about the special quality of the place: "Most of us are living here because we like the idea of being able to walk out our front doors and smile at what we see. On my own front porch I have a palm tree growing in a blue toilet bowl, and on occaison I like to wander outside, stark naked, and fire my .44 magnum at various Gongs I've mounted on the nearby hillside. I like to load up on mescaline and turn my amplifier up to 110 decibels for a taste of "White Rabbit" while the sun comes up on the snow-peaks along the Continental Divide. Which is not the point. The world is full of places where a man can run wild on drugs and loud music and firepower---but not for long."

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List of Reviewed Films

Occasional film reviews and essays. Films I humbly think are somehow interesting, significant, impactful, funny or in some other way worthy of taking up your precious time....by reading about or even eventually viewing if it seems like your type of thing.

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