Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"gonzo: the life and work of hunter s. thompson" movie review

my concert mini-marathon unofficially kicked off on wednesday, when i snuck out of the office to catch an afternoon showing of "gonzo: the life and work of hunter s. thompson!" i had wanted to see this movie since it was first shown at the tribeca film festival, then again at the b.a.m. sundance in brooklyn festival and, finally, monday night when the director himself would have been in attendance and taken questions after the show! i struck out, missing all three of those opportunities to catch this film!

so it was with a mixture of gleeful anticipation and just plain weirdness (appropriate, i guess, for anything having to do w/hunter s. thompson) that i found myself seated in an almost empty screening room at the angelika theatre on houston street. i had been a fan of thompson's for a good chunk of my teen and college years. many years ago i had started off w/"fear and loathing on the road to las vegas," went back in time to "hells angels," and then fast forwarded to "fear and loathing on the campaign trail," to complete my tour of his major books.

i also found time to check out his shorter pieces and, was old enough to catch bill murray in "where the buffalo roam" at an actual movie theater! twenty years later, i watched johnny depp in "fear and loathing in las vegas" on dvd. maybe it was symbolic of how my image of hunter declined tremendously in those intervening years? so sitting back and waiting for hunter's story to be writ large on the big screen again was like a nostalgic homecoming (fittingly, with johnny depp as narrator)!

the film does not disappoint! almost three quarters of the 2+ hour documentary focused on all things hunter that led up to his total abdication of professional responsibility (and, dare i say it, self-respect) when purposefully refused to cover the ali-frazier fight (the "thrilla in manila"). there are countless explanations and theories for why he gave away his tickets to the fight and spent the time floating aimlessly (stoned, drunk and utterly untethered from reality?) in the hotel pool while the practically the entire world was fixated on this event!

the fallout was predictable, and confirmed by the interview comments of his first wife, he was never the same afterwards. that said it all. by the late 70's and early 80's he was a shadow of the great journalist he had been. instead he retreated into the stereotypo of his wild-man image and his behavior became increasingly eccentric with the passage of time. perhaps it's best the film spent very little time dwelling on dark corners of this period in his life. instead, leading up to his 2005 suicide by gun - the filmmaker documents hunter's obsession with the garish monument he created and had built in the great expanse of his "backyard," together with choreographing the intricate memorial service he wanted performed to commemorate him!

overall, this was a powerful film. for those familiar with his story, the interviews and archival footage are impressive in and of themselves. that such disparate voices were collected and provided commentary shows how significant an impact hunter had on the people around him. for me, the most poignant moment of the entire film was his son's line, "i just wish he had been around more." and, a rhetorical question that framed roger ebert's review of the documentary sounded loud and clear: "what about the hangovers?" while we got to see the hard partying, ebert pointed out we never got to see the man "waking up" the next day. i found his piece especially insightful.

"gonzo: the life and work of hunter s. thompson" is a must-see. don't pass it up!

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