Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson

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hunterMy favorite Hunter S. Thompson story involves my friend Doug. We sometimes drive to L.A. for concerts that aren’t coming to town. He often goes up their for book signings. I went with him to the one that Lou Reed was doing. How can you pass up the opportunity to meet Lou Reed!?

Doug was furious I had no desire to meet Hunter S. Thompson. I always found his gonzo journalism to be overrated and it wasn’t worth the long drive; but I loved his story about it.

He was getting out of his car, and ran into Elvis Costello. They talked briefly, before Doug went and got in line. He was the third person of what ended up being around 100. The crowd was told that at the last signing they had with him years earlier, he didn’t sign for everybody, and they can’t control how long he would stay. The crowd laughed.

Doug had brought an expensive bottle of Scotch that he read Thompson liked. He showed up late, with actor Benicio del Toro (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and started signing books. He suspiciously looked at the Scotch, and asked Doug to take a swig. He said he didn’t want to, and Thompson yelled “Do it, man!”

Doug took a large gulp, and Thompson snatched it back quickly. He said “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t put anything in it!.”

With that, he proceeded to down half the bottle.

Doug hung around for about 15 minutes watching other fans greet him, and the bottle was soon empty. Thompson jumped on the table, started singing and yelling, before quickly being carried away. Doug guessed he signed about 18 books.

This documentary was directed by Alex Gibney, who gave us the interesting Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

It’s hard to pull off documentaries on writers. You can’t really capture the magic. Now, I remember being mesmerized watching Ed Harris paint as Jackson Pollock, but…what do you show Hunter doing? Typing furiously, with a cigarette hanging from his lips?

And as I stated, I just wasn’t the biggest fan of his stuff. A perfect example of what I disliked about his character is shown in this. He is sent by Rolling Stone (we hear a lot from founder Jann Wenner) to cover the famous Thrilla in Manilla fight. He stayed at his hotel pool getting drunk.

Gibney spends a lot of time on the earlier years and we see some very interesting old clips. Who knew he was on a ‘60s game show called To Tell the Truth, with people trying to guess who he was?

It’s strange, because The Doors are my favorite band. Yet I feel bad for others ‘60s groups that didn’t get as much recognition simply because Jim Morrison was often drunk and getting arrested. I sort of feel that way about Thompson as a writer.

I wasn’t a fan of the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although you can’t fault the filmmakers for the way they tried to capture the craziness. Yet the clips of it worked well being inserted into this.

There were many things in this movie I found interesting. I enjoyed hearing about how he was an early supporter of President Carter, after hearing him speak once at a luncheon. His praise in Rolling Stone really got the ball rolling on his campaign.

It was fun to hear from people as diverse as politician Pat Buchanan and musician Jimmy Buffett. Of course, having Johnny Depp narrate was perfect. Especially the ending, which I don’t think is giving anything away to mention, since it was all over the news. Just in case you don’t know about his big send off, I won’t spoil it.

The documentary was a bit long at two hours and didn’t spend enough of that time really delving into his demons.

I found it interesting enough to give it a B-.