Monday, July 21, 2008

DJG/ GONZO: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

GONZO: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
* * * * 1/2

By Danny J. Gibson

Celebrated writer Hunter S. Thompson lived his life with a bang and indeed went out with one. It's surprising to me that Thompson's ticker didn't exhaust during his hard living and hard hitting of the 1960s and '70s. Heck, he lived and hit hard up until 2005. It's probably safe to say that there is no surprise to anyone that he stopped permanently with the self-inflicted gunshot he'd storied about time and time again. The end to a story he had ticker taped to friends and family until the trigger pulled in the next room sounded like a heavy book hitting the floor. Sad, but morbidly fitting.

A journalistic rock star, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson pedaled a life at full-throttle whether it was fast cars, popped pills, breakfast bourbon, lots of guns or lots of women. Looking for trouble or early death, Hunter often lived up to his name. Chaotic at best and worst, he also walked both sides of a crooked sword. Somehow he managed to not destroy completely two wives and a son and he even ran a humorously-serious and near-successful bid for sheriff of Aspen, CO. Town officials today still admit that his doped-up ideas were better than they could ever produce. Deep between the lead halls of his passionately punched typewriter key kisses on Americana and brilliant mind explosions on the country he feared, loathed and loved, a true and original patriot was stirring things up. True, a patriot equipped with a double barrel dose of drugged-back initiative to make you want to lock your daughters and liquor up, but he was still a patriot in his own Wild Turkey ways. As low as his tank did run sometimes, he never stooped to the level of the Hell's Angels, Chicago Police Department, The Kentucky Derby, Las Vegas or Richard M. Nixon. Subjects he covered and campaigned against with Hunter handfuls of fun, fits and strange fellowship.

Hunter S. Thompson loved his country and worked himself hard and fast to document the times that were a' changin'. His canvas was the full page of the counter-culture, as he produced a unique and fluid voice dubbed GONZO (I've often wondered if Jim Henson borrowed the name for his emotionally distraught, blue-beaked Muppet?). Thompson has left behind a legacy as one of the greatest writers-thinkers in American history. Constantly in search of his version of the American dream, Hunter creatively observed and then mowed down the fast lanes with his altered mind looking up, in and out of the gutter warfare of society, sports and politics. He pushed his Hunter-esque vitamin values to win victory in the vernacular. It's fascinating to me how much he influenced and shook the culture and many walks of people still listened to him on and off the page. And not too unlike Forrest Gump, he somehow popped up at many major events, in some of the most brooding and shameful times of America's past. That is, until his productivity whirlwind sails deflated the day after President Nixon's second White House win and never really picked back up for decades. His own demon had finally possessed him.

Hunter S. Thompson was full of life and breathed his own brand of it, playing a extraordinary, creative and dangerous carving of one at that. But, he himself eventually became hostage of his own inner and outer vices, becoming the ever-on-high caricature of Hunter S. Thompson. A portrait of a life that was just as unique as the illustrations his friend and fellow fast-living GONZO innovator Ralph Steadman created of him and his documented subjects. The two worked on many projects, even co-designing what has to be one of the world's strangest tombstones, but very fitting for a life such as Thompson's (I won't begin to describe it or the funeral, just watch this fascinating film).

On a filmmaking level, "GONZO..." is a full-throttled, finely cut and manicured document to an American original and to the culture of the '60s and '70s. Only running out of steam a bit when it idles on the Nixon vs. McGovern Presidential race in the early '70s. Though, I don't mind as it was history to a major American blow and a major breaking point for Thompson, and besides he is one of the few commentators who can really make political coverage interesting and tolerable for me. In execution, enjoyment and subject, the film is pretty much on par with "The Devil & Daniel Johnston", another excellent testimony of a true original with a brilliant, yet dangerous mind. I think it's important to celebrate such a unique and gifted talent as Hunter S. Thompson, but like in most cases of genius, there can be something learned. Hunter was indeed Hunter and there will never be another Hunter. But, Hunter was selfish, playing too hard as his own God and with little rules until he finally crossed the line for the last time. It's a shame that Hunter's passion for separating society and politics from that of true patriotism couldn't be used right now. Had he not burnt his own American dream out, he'd be in the best climate to re-introduce his GONZO observations, and in ripe comparison to that of the darkness to the '60s and '70s. America could really use Hunter S. Thompson right now and he could really use America. The only place we can get him now is in archival footage and commentary at the movies and the paper trail prose he left on book shelves. That's not bad, but still not good enough when you frustratingly know he still had a lot of gas in the tank.


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