Director Alex Gibney follows up his Oscar-winning documentary, ``Taxi to the Dark Side,'' with this examination of the 1970s cult hero whose odd-ball writing style evolved into what is now known as Gonzo journalism.
After ingesting a peyote button and a tablet of Ed Muskie’s favorite hallucinogen, Ibogaine, I set out to experience “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.”
It was yet another day of fear and loathing on the summer movie trail, a season so generally repulsive I’ve been forced to fill my addled mind with narcotics and Wild Turkey to slow the rotting brain cells. Still, the pain persists.
Surely the story of the great father of Gonzo journalism will reignite the smoldering embers of a ’60s high I thought died the day in 2005 when the Great Gonzo put a bullet through his head.
Now I was the one wanting to plant a silver cap deep within my gray matter out of frustration over what the bourgeois money grubbers have done to my hero, tarnishing his name with a documentary better smoked than seen.
I watched intently, amazed by the faded home movies and the clips of his infamous appearance on “What’s My Line” right after his acclaimed debut, “Hell’s Angels,” hit the shelves in 1966. But the little men residing in my cranium kept telling me don’t fall for it. Don’t buy what The Man is selling.
And what they’re selling certainly isn’t Hunter S. Thompson; more like they’re peddling a dusty video of that Johnny Depp turkey, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a very bad film based on Hunter’s very good book.
Clips of it kept popping up like memories of a horrible acid trip. Worse, I kept hearing Johnny’s voice reading Hunter’s brilliant words in a laconic monotone instead of like a drunken Capt. Jack Sparrow, the way Thompson intended.
The talking heads, all of them usual suspects, bombarded me, too, with clichés and fond remembrances of an author/folk hero they probably never really liked when he was alive. It was as if geezers like George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan and smarmy Jann Wenner, Hunter’s boss at Rolling Stone, were conspiring to obliterate my patience with their inane platitudes.
Then there was Hunter’s son, Juan, recalling memories shared with the man he seldom saw. He just might be the dullest of the dull.
Between all the BS, there was the occasional oasis, a Garden of Eden that were Hunter’s words. Hearing them sent shivers up my creaky spine, taking me back to the first time I read “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,” his brilliant exposé on the 1972 presidential campaign, in which he presciently tagged Nixon a liar and a crook.
What really struck me, though, was how his prose remains so relevant today. Thompson loathed Bush, correctly predicting in a 2001 essay (read aloud in the film’s opening minutes) that he would take America down a destructive path after 9/11.
I’d bet he’d voice similar sentiments about “Gonzo” and its director, Alex Gibney (this year’s Oscar winner for “Taxi to the Dark Side”), who approaches his subject with close-minded reverence.
I loved Thompson, but face it, he was a gun-loving SOB who would kiss you on the cheek one moment and stab you in the back the next. That’s what made him great, and it’s also what made him a jerk. But Gibney mostly covers up Thompson’s pitch-black soul. He also leaves out the last 30 years of his tortured life, a time when his venomous well began to run dry.
But those are the days I wanted to learn about, not the Swinging Sixties, already well chronicled in Thompson’s three masterpieces, “Hell’s Angels, “Las Vegas” and “Campaign Trail.”
I also wanted to hear more from the people who really knew him, like his life-long sidekick, bizzaro artist Ralph Steadman, and his old buddy from his newspaper days, Tom Wolfe.
Instead, all I got were endless clips culled from an awful Depp movie and Jann Wenner, the biggest phony to ever slip on a three-piece suit. I don’t think there are enough drugs in the world to make that man tolerable.
Still, for the coddled offspring of the boomer generation, “Gonzo” just might be an ideal introduction to an author they should know, read and love.
Thompson’s hardened fans, however, would be wise to dust off a copy of “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” and re-experience the author’s brilliance firsthand. I can think of no better tribute to a man who lived by his words.