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

July 27, 2010

8/10 Freedom Writers

I fitting tribute to one of the great writers and modern-day patriots of our time.

Gonzo is a documentary about one Hunter S. Thompson, an all-around madman who left his mark on the world by taking enough psychedelics to kill an adult hippo while fully embracing his right to bear arms, running for sheriff of a small Colorado town on the “Freak Power” ticket (now that’s a party I’d vote for) and writing about the Hell’s Angels, politics in the ’60s and ’70s, and the wildly dangerous effects of going on an ether binge in brilliant new ways that helped shape the course of American journalism while changing the face of literature.

Like most folks, my first introduction to Thompson was when one of my best friends in college introduced me to Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In retrospect, this might not have been the best place to start because it scared, depressed and confused the sober shit out of me more than anything else, but I was intrigued by this fellow all the same. It wasn’t until later on when I stumbled across my stepfather’s copy of Thompson’s source material and subsequently tore through it like I was right there in bat country with Raoul Duke himself that I realized the greatness worth worshiping.

Now, if you’ve never heard of Thompson, if you’ve never seen, read, smelled or heard about Fear and Loathing, if the only connection to “Gonzo” you’re coming up with is The Muppets, then Gonzo is about the best first impression you could ask for.

It’s directed by Alex Gibney, and as far as documentarians go, this guy’s cleanin’ house. After tackling some outrageously heavy topics like those greedy fuckers at Enron and the US torture practices at Guantanamo Bay, this seemed like an unexpected, if not much-needed lighter direction to take things in, and something about it just seemed right from the moment I saw that poster.

Athough, when it starts out, the movie actually looks somewhat unimpressive as Gibney superimposes actors over photos of Thompson amongst other strangely amateurish attempts to “bring him to life” and it does feel like an odd way to kick things off. Even with Johnny Depp reading aloud excerpts from the guy’s novels with Gibney’s absolutely phenomenal soundtrack playing over it all, it still took me a bit to get reeled in. But then the epic amount of archived footage, audio and pictures starts rolling along with some wonderfully candid interviews from Thompson, his family and his incredibly mixed bag of friends and colleagues and you more or less forget all about that little hiccup at the get-go. You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

But the interesting thing about Gibney’s approach to Thompson is how much time is spent on his life as a political activist, whether it be him actually running for office, traveling along with George McGovern and watching him slowly sell out before his eventual loss to Nixon, or being one of the key figures who put Jimmy Carter on the map before anyone even knew who the hell that country bumpkin even was. As much as I wish there was more emphasis placed on what an outrageously funny and batshit crazy guy Thompson was, I already knew that stuff about the guy, everyone who knows anything about Thompson knows that first and foremost, and I don’t really think that’s how we would have wanted to have been remembered anyway.

It’s easy for someone to come across something like Fear and Loathing and write the guy off as a dope fiend with a typewriter while ignoring his swan song of a dying era in the process, and to do so would be unfortunate for everyone involved. Not only was Thompson the unintentional poster boy of a pivotal and terribly disheartening period in America’s political and cultural history where people stopped fighting for what was right and started eating all the bullshit that was being fed to ’em, but he really had a gift and he was one of the few who stuck to his guns instead of giving in to the man. Granted, the guy did end up doing enough drugs to the point where he pretty much developed a complete immunity to them, but that’s just one more thing that made him so damn interesting.

Even as someone who’s been on the Thompson bandwagon for a while now, simply reading a couple books and watching a couple YouTube videos of John Cusack describing how Hunter used to stop his car in the middle of a busy street and start slapping around a blow-up doll named “Ling-Ling” for all to see will only tell you so much about the guy. Thompson’s later years where he became more of a victim of his own fame than anything else are particularly sad in this regard, but when push comes to shove, this was a guy who lived one unbelievable life, someone who continually pole-vaulted himself over the edge and lived to tell about it in ways no one else could, someone who will undoubtebly grab the attention of readers and admirers for generations upon generations after his (un)timely death. Not quite sure how he made it to 67 let alone 30, but Gonzo is a wild little testament to a man who puts 21st Century journalism to shame and was all the while tripping balls like you wouldn’t believe.

And if you haven’t read Fear and Loathing, hit up the library, stat. That right there is a 10 out of 10.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 11:04 am

    I love the part about his run for Sheriff of Aspen — I wonder how different society would be today if he won.

    • July 27, 2010 11:08 am

      That was my first thought, too. Man, we could have used a president like Thompson. That guy had shit figured out and his opponents probably couldn’t come up with anything to use against him since he had no shame whatsoever. Dude really should have kept up with it. What a shame.

      • July 27, 2010 1:33 pm

        his suicide note was epic too — understated yet overly-dramatic, poignant and irreverent.

        Thompson, Hemingway, Steve Irwin — the only men whose deaths were a perfect fit to their lives.

      • July 28, 2010 8:01 am

        Yeah, I’d read that before, very Thompson. And well said about those three guys, certainly made a whole lot of sense even if I still think they died too young.

  2. July 27, 2010 5:13 pm

    Thompsan was pretty awesome…I mean, you never see guys like that anymore. So shamelessly batshit, but then, nowadays they’d be on forced medication. Nobody’s allowed to be crazy now. I’d vote for him.

    • July 28, 2010 8:06 am

      Hell yeah, man. I don’t care if Clint Eastwood was running against him, I’d still be pulling Thompson. Awesome is right.

  3. July 28, 2010 2:31 am

    Still itching to see this. It never came to Phoenix. Bastards.

  4. July 29, 2010 10:27 am

    HST is still one of my pure and simple artistic inspirations to life in general. Here was a man so lost in his head and so painstakingly aware of life it was…well…bat shit crazy. Ruben nailed it with his death, Hemingway’s, and Irvings. Their art reflected their lives and so the poetry of their deaths gave them a sense of immortality in my mind. I’ve gotta check this out, thanks Aiden.

    “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me. “

    • July 29, 2010 12:54 pm

      Definitely do. Thompson really was one of the greats.

      “When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”


  1. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2007) – What the Hell Should I Watch on NETFLIX?

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