03 April 2010

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

Alex Gibney's 2008 documentary film Gonzo examines the on-the-edge life and best journalistic work of Hunter S. Thompson, one of the greatest writing talents produced by the youth culture in the U.S. of the 1960s and early '70s. Focusing on Thompson's experience of and coverage of "the death of the American dream," the film is rich in essential background details. Through archival footage and audio recordings of Thompson in action; interviews with the people who were there; readings of his work by Thompson himself, friends, and quite powerfully by narrator Johnny Depp; a perfect soundtrack; right down to discussion of Thompson's suicide and its aftermath -- Gonzo tells Thompson's tale as thoroughly as I've seen it told.

Also examined is Thompson's Gonzo reporting, based on
William Faulkner's idea that "fiction is often the best fact." While the things that Thompson wrote about are basically true, he used satirical devices to drive his points home. (Wikipedia contributors, Gonzo Journalism.)
Material on the writing of all his major books (Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1966), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971)*, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 (1973)) is included.

Gonzo gives us Thompson's riding with the California Hell's Angels (complete with a consensual gang bang he witnesses), psychedelic San Francisco in the early 1960s, Richard Nixon ("the werewolf within us"), '71 in Vegas ("the final nail in the coffin of the sixties"), the 1972 McGovern campaign trail crumbling into
Machiavellian politics -- all undergirded by the moral imperative of opposing the war in Southeast Asia. All but the Hell's Angels book are gonzo journalism: Thompson's talent filtered through a whiskey, pharmaceutical and general "pushing the edge" subjective lens.

also covers Thompson the man: his life, his passions, obsessions, his beautiful and ugly sides. We see Hunter set against the backdrop of his times, from the sixties to the 2001 d
estruction of the World Trade Center and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed.

And in the end, we see Thompson unraveling toward a much anticipated suicide. As with any suicide, we see the immediate loss the act brings to friends, family and admirers. Yet another aspect of his suicide is highlighted: Hunter the man
released from the burden of the gonzo character he became. To paraphrase Thompson, the gonzo journalistic myth surrounding him would now be free to run where it may. The bottom line for me is that we lost a uniquely talented voice that provided a hopeful but correctly disillusioned view of America. (Note: Hunter Thompson shot himself in 2005 -- a time when the Bush administration was in full swing.)

Gonzo details the life and times of an uncommon, nontraditional voice in American journalism. That voice still rings loud and true today. This documentary film brings into high relief just how much we need such a voice.
*For a discussion of Terry Gilliam's 1998 film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, see my 2008 post For the '60's Counterculture, the Road Didn't Go on Forever).

1 comment:

TK said...

I like the brevity of this post. A quick and powerful reflection challenging us to either view the film and learn more about Hunter or at the very least contemplate the "voices" available to broaden our minds to a world often denied of its raw truth.

I enjoyed this thought the most ... "All but the Angel's book are gonzo journalism: Thompson's talent filtered through a whiskey, pharmaceutical and general "pushing the edge" subjective lens."

This is one of your best.