Even in his heyday, Dr.
Hunter S. Thompson was a bit of a contradiction. A counter-culture
journalist who eschewed the counter culture and journalism. A hippie
icon who shaved his head and loved guns. A protestor who tried to
change things from the inside and from the outside.
This documentary was filmed and
directed by Wayne Ewing, a longtime friend of Thompson and a veteran
Hollywood behind-the-scenes sort. (His most impressive credit, to my
eyes, is that he worked as a cinematographer and director for a while on the
best television drama of the 90s, Homicide: Life on the Street.)
Thompson has allowed Ewing extraordinary access to his life, seeing the
good, the bad and the ugly about this legendary writer.
Some of the most interesting
sections of the film deal with Thompson's dealings with Hollywood to turn
out an ultimately fruitless 1998 film version of his masterwork Fear &
Loathing in Las Vegas. It was undoubtedly an unfilmable book, and
his reactions to the craziness going on around him, in particular a fiery
meeting with early directorial candidate Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy) make
for fascinating viewing.
There is also some
absorbing archival footage of his aborted campaign for sheriff of Aspen,
Colorado in the early 70s. His professional and home life are laid
bare, and we are shown a series of banquets in which famous people fawn all
over him. With the quick cuts and shaky camera work, it sometimes gets
to feel like a reality TV show... The Gonzo Life?
However, there is another
thing that the film points out about Thompson which I don't believe was
Ewing's intention. Thompson seems trapped by the powerful myth and
reputation for being a wild man he has fostered all these years.
It appears that he feels this desperation to do something outrageous all the
time. Therefore, when he goes to visit former boss Jann Wenner of Rolling
Stone, he feels the need to pick up a fire extinguisher and shoot it
into the man's office. When doing a lecture at the Viper Room on
Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, he drives up in a convertible sports car with
hip movie stars Johnny Depp, John Cusack and a blow-up sex doll. As he
drunkenly gets out of the car, he throws the doll in front of another car,
whose only offense was trying to get around him. If Thompson wasn't a
genius, a lot of people would say he was a bit of an asshole. They
probably wouldn't be completely wrong.
So your reaction to this
film will depend on your tolerance for the colorful personality at the
center of it. Love him or hate him, Hunter S. Thompson is pretty hard
to ignore. (7/04)
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 21, 2004.