“ Genre: Documentary / Theatrical Release: 2007 / Director: Alex Gibney / Actors: Hunter S. Thompson, Gilleon Smith, George Wallace (IV), George McGovern, Pierre Adeli ... / DVD released 2008-11-18 at Magnolia / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC „
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As the name would suggest, 'Gonzo - The life and work of Dr Hunter S Thompson', is a documentary which probes into the professional and private life of one of America's most contentious writers. I will confess to being a rather large fan of HST and his work. I would recommend 'The Rum Diary' and 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' as two of the twentieth century's best novels. Hardly surprising then that I found 'Gonzo - The life and work of Dr Hunter S Thompson' to be right up my street.
The documentary deals with most of the major points in Thompson's life, including him infiltrating the Hell's Angels gang, standing for Sheriff in Aspen, attending the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, his life as a political correspondent for 'Rolling Stone' and of course the writing of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. These are all given a good amount of air time and are thoroughly explored. Many of Thompson's close friends and family are involved in the documentary, including Johnny Depp (who played Raoul Duke in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'), Thompson's wife and ex-wife and his son. You really get a sense of the things that motivated him and dictated the pace of his hectic and frenetic life.
I would have liked to have seen a bit of detail about his early days spent as a reported in San Jose, Peurta Rico. This was a pretty conspicuous omission and one that I felt detracted from the overall success of the documentary.
All in all though this was a very thorough and entertaining documentary which captured the passion and enthusiasm of one of the 20th century's most original authors. He is such an interesting subject that I guess it's pretty easy to make an interesting documentary about him.
The DVD extra's include deleted footage as well as the original Dictaphone recordings of Thompson's own trip to Vegas, which would become the basis for 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. These make for some entertaining viewing and should not be ignored.
I would recommend this documentary whole heartedly, whether you are a paid up member of the Hunter S Thompson fan club or not. The guy exuded such enthusiasm and creativity for the things he believed in, it is truly infectious.
Hunter S. Thompson is one of the most enduring, mysterious and intriguing cultural figures of the last century. He was forever immortalised to most in the visually stunning (if narratively empty) Terry Gilliam film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a crazed journo who brought about the use of the term "gonzo journalism". He committed suicide a few years ago, cementing him as an engimatic, manic depressive, clever, and undoubtedly fascinating figure who has been further investigated in this documentary, which isn't as probing as it could be, but it's got some compelling insights into Thompson the man as well as the mythic figure he created for himself.
This is lovingly produced and it's clear that director Alex Gibney has adequate admiration for his subject, and he raises the compelling idea that we need Hunter now more than we ever have before. In a post-9/11 world, with political correctness ramping up, someone with the irreverence of Thompson would be a breath of fresh air in our overly cautious, walk-on-eggshells world, although perhaps the film does go a tad too overboard in this regard, and almost begins to deify him at points, but by and large remains balanced to recognise his talents as well as his myriad difficulties and flaws.
What's most admirable about this doc, though, is how satisfying it is to both Thompson die-hards and newbies: while this stilts its ability to probe further, in that it wants to be accessible, it does mean that Thompson gets to reach a wider audience as a result, and from where I'm coming from, that can only be a good thing. Perhaps not objective enough regarding Thompson's demise, it's nevertheless a good starting point to explore Thompson, and this film is a well-constructed doc to that effect.
'Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson' is a 2008 documentary film by Alex Gibney which takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the life and times of the infamous writer and 'Gonzo' journalist. The film sketches out the background of Thompson and then uses period archive footage, photos, dramatic reconstructions and talking head tributes and anecdotes to tell the story of his life and career, concentrating for the most part on his early seventies heyday when the writer was most prolific and readable. The talking heads include Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Ralph Steadmen, Sonny Barger, Tom Wolfe and Sondi Wright and the documentary features some nice narration by actor and celebrity fan Johnny Depp reading extracts from Thompson's work.
A highly entertaining and interesting breeze through the salient portions of Thompson's life, the documentary begins with some detail on his origins and then takes us through his dangerous experiences riding with a Hell's Angel gang ('It doesn't mean he isn't a jerk, but he was a great writer,' recalls a grizzled Hell's Angel veteran) to his unsuccessful and slightly mad campaign to become Sheriff of Aspen County. The documentary really kicks into gear and becomes most absorbing though when Rolling Stone magazine decides to let the writer loose on the world of American politics and the drug-addled Thompson becomes a somewhat shambolic but biting figure on the campaign trails, known for his refreshingly abstract and unique approach to covering politics. There is, for example, an amusing incident highlighted in the film where Thompson openly suggested (rather tongue-in-cheek of course) that Democratic presidential hopeful Ed Muskie was addicted to a mind-altering hallucinogen called Ibogaine. We hear extracts of a remarkable piece Thompson wrote imagining the politician delivering a speech and looking out to see the audience morphing into strange lizard creatures as the paranoia takes hold. Some of the mainstream press even picked up the story and investigated it not realising it was all just a personal piece of mischief by Thompson to amuse himself!
The political footage and insight included here is fascinating at times. We hear audio from a speech given by Jimmy Carter in the early seventies slating a group of well-heeled and slightly gobsmacked legal folk in Georgia. The speech is compelling because because we are told that Thompson was riveted by it and wrote glowingly of Carter, probably helping to raise his profile and eventually become President. To have the Hunter S Thompson stamp of approval added a certain coolness and street credibility to a candidate when the writer was at the height of his powers. Thompson loathed Nixon and wrote the most terrible things about him - 'A cheap crook and a merciless war criminal, he speaks to the werewolf in us, on nights when the Moon comes too close' - but we hear about an unlikely and curious meeting between the pair where Hunter was invited to travel in the President's car but only if he talked just about American Football, an obsession with Nixon apparently. Thompson tells us in archive that in those days he was the only member of the dusty political press pack who was even capable of holding a conversation about sport and this appealed to Nixon. The film picks up on certain parallels between Nixon and George W Bush, simultaneously lamenting the depressingly circular nature of politics and the lack of a contemporary Hunter S Thompson to add a unique twisted modern commentary to such weighty matters.
Thompson's sudden decline is perhaps symbolised by a fascinating part of the documentary. Rolling Stone send him to Zaire to cover the legendary 'Rumble in the Jungle', the heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Suffering from an increasing case of writers block and convinced, just like almost everyone else at the time, that the fight is a waste of time and brutal mismatch that will see his beloved Ali taking a fearful pounding, Thompson doesn't even make it to the fight arena and takes a swim in his hotel pool instead. Ali wins of course in one of the remarkable nights and upsets in sporting history but Thompson missed it and returned with nothing. A sharp contrast to Norman Mailer who returned from Zaire and was inspired by his experience of such an epic event and journey to write his legendary book The Fight. Thompson's creative peak had come and gone.
The film shows us how Thompson ended up being as famous for being Hunter S Thompson - with his daft hat and drug-fueled rock star lifestyle and groupies - as he did for his work. To what extent he ended up playing the Hunter S Thompson character rather than be himself is a complex issue that even the subject of this documentary himself pondered on from time to time. When political cartoonist Garry Trudeau creates a character based on Thompson, the writer is first angry but eventually grows to like the idea. The caricature is too strong to escape now. 'He lost it,' comments the former editor of Rolling Stone. 'He was a prisoner of his own fame. Everywhere he went Thompson became the story.'
We don't linger for too long on the long wilderness years here although we see that Thompson, who seemed to become more eccentric and bored as he got older, was a rather alarming gun nut and there is a lot of footage of him gleefully shooting targets or just wildly into the air with his countless weapons on his secluded 'Owl Farm' compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. It's interesting to see Thompson older and more reclusive, slurringly holding court at his secluded house for anyone who dropped by and apparently always perched in front of a huge typewriter with a drink to hand. Thompson (we are told) always intended to shoot himself at the age of thirty but eventually got around to doing it when he sixty-seven. In the documentary we see the young Thompson talking about his plans for his funeral and an eccentric monument he wants built on his land. These plans are shown being carried out after his death in what is a touching farewell. The readings from Johnny Depp are incredibly atmospheric and entertaining and really hammer home the genius of Thompson's journalism during a specific era. You like the voice coming through the writing a lot and wish he was still around although the real Thompson is a more ambiguous character in the flesh here, sometimes coming across a geeky and slightly dangerous oddball who is rather self-absorbed. A former landlord sums the free-spirited Thompson up as well as anyone perhaps when he recalls that the writer 'Never paid his rent, broke up my marriage and taught my children to smoke dope.'
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson is a very entertaining and interesting documentary about one of the more unique characters to inhabit the sometimes staid world of journalism.
The DVD includes a host of extra material. There is an audio commentary by Alex Gibney (where he reveals that Alex Cox was due to direct Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas until he fell out with Thompson), deleted scenes, a host of interviews with the likes of Gart Hart, Pat Buchanan, Tom Wolfe, several photo galleries and audio clips from some of Thompson's personal tapes.
I went to see this in an independent cinema and although I missed the first 15 minutes I thought it was amazing. Like most people who will want to watch this film I am a big fan of most of the things he has written. This documentary was great because it wasn't just people who knew him saying how great he was (this would have made for a very boring documentary!) However you really get the feel for what he was like from so many people. You get the good and the bad which is very interesting as the viewer can form their own opinion. The film really slants predominantly towards Hunter's political work, you really get the impression that he turned that world upside down with his style of writing. This documentary is well worth seeing if you're a fan for old footage and photos. Also well worth it to watch his amazing funeral where he is shot into space.