Thursday, January 1, 2009

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

Directed by Alex Gibney

While watching coverage of the McCain campaign, and specifically the way in which the press was spotlighting Sarah Palin, I thought about how Hunter Thompson might have written about things. I would have loved to have been able to read one of his accounts from one of her rallies - I'm sure that he would have exaggerated only a little - and we would have gotten a more truthful glimpse into the bizarre world that she inhabited.

Sadly, Thompson took his life a few years ago. This documentary explores his life, featuring interviews with his family, his editors at Rolling Stone, his collaborator Ralph Steadman, fellow writers like Tom Wolfe, and some of the politicians that he covered over the years. It also features readings from his work by Johnny Depp, who really did nail his voice in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', and was therefore the perfect choice for bringing his words to life here. The film also makes generous use of other film and tv appearances Thompson made, and the hours of audio recordings he left behind.

What emerges is a very clear portrait of a man haunted by his own rage (fear and loathing being the perfect way to summarise his mental state a lot of the time), but also a man who was hopeful of a better world. Thompson is viciously funny - his suggestion that Ed Muskie, a candidate in the Democratic primaries of '72, was being proscribed the drug Ibogaine by a mysterious Brazilian doctor became a news story of its own - and the film shows clearly that he was responsible for creating a new approach to journalism.

This film is a loving tribute to a great writer, but it is also careful to show the darkness and anger that consumed him. It ends with the elaborate funeral that Thompson had planned for himself - especially funny is the footage of him and Steadman explaining the plans to a mortician.

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