I was supposed to be at a party by the time I was halfway through watching this film. But I couldn’t peel my banana-eyes away from this beauty of a documentary.
What a great account of one of the weirdest literary figures in American history.
Gonzo follows the life and career of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as he goes from an unknown journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine to becoming one of the most exciting political voices in the 1970s, and later, the legacy he leaves behind after he commits suicide in 2005.
To me it was partly a study of what happens when one encounters fame, and the shortfalls that beset a person once that name becomes recognizable from a distance. The film touches on one of the things that fascinate me the most, and that is accountability for being interesting in a public arena.
He wrote his best work when nobody knew who the hell he was, and he was free to write honestly without hesitation because of that. Partnered with his assignment to be a political correspondent for Rolling Stone Magazine during the presidential elections in the early 70s, this guy was a lunatic firecracker with a pen. He got into trouble for his opinions, as most people do, but he somehow became an even more extraordinary figure because of it.
Accountability becomes the scary part, as once others start challenging and questioning your work, it becomes not only a mission to prove its worth, but your character’s as well. There is always a tension that happens when someone so interesting/controversial/peculiar goes through the gauntlet. Most look like idiots (thanks, Jon Stewart & Gang), but some come out like fucking splendid gladiators.
He was a true “free lance,” in the sense that he was an angry man willing to gore every sacred cow in his path. So he was fearless — he went after people, and he did so with a wicked sense of humor that everybody appreciated. At the same time I think he had his finger so much on the pulse of the American character — both what makes it great and what makes it horrible. He understood the tremendous idealism in America, and he always wore his heart on his sleeve. At the same time, he always understood the deep fear and loathing, as Hunter would have put it, at the heart of this society. —Alex Gibney on The Reeler
It becomes a test of a person’s wit, grace, style and intelligence, really, and I think that’s why it’s so interesting to me. Throughout his career built on harsh words, cut-off shorts, vices and guns, Thompson somehow kept the same spirit as he aged. If not from his work (which suffered after he failed to cover the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with Ali and Foreman), then from the people who remember him so fondly and so well. He seemed so well-loved and well-regarded, that it really became a matter of being an impressive person rather than just an impressive writer.
While some people don’t last as long, or really, live as long, Thompson blew through the 70s through the 90s like a champ. Gibney intersperses the movie with soundbytes and recordings of Thompson’s work, which was a fucking blast of confused statements intertwined with very astute questions. He was a real poet, this guy, and such a pleasure to learn about.
I’ve yet to have the experience of reading his work as a whole, much like how I only know bits and bytes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (that movie is so much harder to fucking find than you think). However, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson has always been in my list of to-read-before-go-blind-okay-maybe-if-a-James-Earl-Jones-audiobook-came-out.
—I’ll insert a defensive note here, to mention that I’m quite a slow reader and my reading list is hefty. While some have the wonderful ability to immerse themselves in books for hours, I’ve unfortunately inherited my generation’s attention span of the most minuscule proportions. I’m working on it!
PS. The soundtrack is also amazeballs.