Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Last night I drove over to Dallas to see "Gonzo", the new documentary about journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
It was worth the trip.


The movie doesn't give you any new info on Thompson. It doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat. You probably know going in that the hero dies by his own hand.

But it's fun to see unexpected guys like Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, and George McGovern fondly reminiscing about a drug-crazed writer for Rolling Stone. (I already had a subscription to RS back when it was still published on unstapled newsprint, which would've made me about 14 years old. The magazine had great music and concert reviews, wonderful political writing, and would take chances on experimental projects by writers like Thompson and Tom Wolfe. It's been depressing to see the magazine decline into a support system for fashion and fragrance ads.)

The documentary doesn't spend much time on his childhood in Kentucky, but takes you ASAP to Thompson's coverage of the Hell's Angels biker gang. His gun fetish gets a lot of attention. His collaborative relationship with artist Ralph Steadman is fully explained. I was surprised by the amount of available Thompson TV and news footage.

The first Mrs. Thompson is, shall we say, bitter.
Jimmy Buffet is aging gracefully.
Gary Hart is aging gracefully.
Various Hell's Angels are not.

It was a bummer to watch home videos of the last few weeks of Thompson's life in Colorado, no longer at the top of his game (having lost some of his mental capacity to mescaline, coke, and bourbon), getting jowly, plinking around on an IBM Selectric, and writing a sports blog for ESPN.

Dr. (from a mail-order divinity degree) Hunter S. Thompson is what you get when the libertarian positions on gun rights, free speech, and opposition to drug and alcohol prohibition are carried to the extremes.

And that's how Dr. Thompson wanted to live his life. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved, and Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail are by themselves worth far more than any retired, healthy, Kentucky journalist.


Gonzo logo was borrowed from The Plastered Poets. The last sentence was borrowed from Faulkner. (Hit the "journalist" link.)

4 comments:

Anton said...

While I appreciate the movie, just like Hunter's life, it all sort of went downhill after the second act.

That's not to say Dr. Thompson didn't have some genius in him, I think he did. I agree, it's a movie worth watching.

johnhspivey said...

I'd like to see this flick! I thought that John Galt was the 'libertarian ideal carried to the extreme'... turns out it's Hunter S. Thomspson!

Nick M said...

I don't think Thompson is the libertarian *position* on guns and drugs etc carried to extremes. I think he was more like someone who exploited that position (there will always be some) to extremes.

There are plenty more libertarians who have rather more rational reasons for drug legalization than wanting to be permanently whacked out of their gourds all day.

In particular, nixing the drug-gang-crime nexus is why I'd like to see drugs legal.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Anton,
I agree. Last half was kinda sad. (The movie and the life)

John,
I just picked up a copy of Rand's "Anthem". Will sound off on it soon.

Nick M,
Always glad to see you on these pages.
Faulkner said something like "The Artist will do anything to get his work done, and will rob his mother if necessary. 'Ode To A Grecian Urn' is worth more than any number of little old ladies".

Perhaps I was trying too hard for a parallelism with that quote. What I intended to show was that Thompson's work was a reflection of that type of full-throttle, overblown excess. Without the cocaine, bourbon, and artillery, we wouldn't have the Fear And Loathing books.