"It Never Got Weird Enough For Me"
Hunter Stockton Thompson, a.k.a. Doctor Hunter S. Thompson (even though he briefly attended Columbia University part time), would arbitrarily make statements such as this to punctuate a moment in his life, and his life's work: The recorded moments and events of others as seen through his skewed, cockeyed view of a world he never trusted, and never quite was comfortable with. It is not that Thompson's rather aloof and caustic view of the turbulent times that shaped his life and his world view qualified him as a deviant - no - far from it. It is just that he was so drastically different - odd in most people's estimation - that one, I believe, would need to have lived just a piece of his unique existence to understand his genius.
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro" could have not only been one of his life's many mottos, it perfectly described the process of Thompson's maturation to his life's work that evolved into him becoming one of the most effective poets of his generation. "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" is a documentary, written and directed by Alex Gibney, that explored his life from growing up in Louisville, Kentucky to becoming the shell of the writer that evolved into the Gonzo Poet of his Lost Generation, and eventually lost to suicide.
Alex Gibney's 120 minute long documentary took as unbiased approach; as much as was possible that could continue the simultaneous truth and mystique of Thompson intact, while laying bare his self-indulgent personality that always took all issues, all passions to a insurmountable level for others, and ultimately for himself. Few partook of as many drugs, drank as much "booze," or lived and wrote of a more irreverent lifestyle than Hunter S. Thompson. Gibney's proficiency in keeping it real while keeping the enigmatic Thompson fascinating to the fine point of hilarity, encourages the knowing and unknowing public to take an interest in the life of a counterculture legend.
Hunter S. Thompson got his start, after the honorably discharged Airman First Class spent a short time at Columbia University, as a freelance cub reporter for a variety of newspapers and periodicals. Eventually after some years of honing his writing skills - at one point he voraciously typed the manuscript of literary giants F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway so that he could get the cadence down of truly great writers - Mr. Thompson joined the Hells Angels in 1965 to embed himself in that group to do research for: first a periodical article and later a book. His first widely published manuscript: Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was the culmination of his efforts and made the New York Times Best Sellers List.
Shortly after this success, Hunter S. Thompson ran for the Sherriff of Pitkin County, with Aspen, Colorado as the county seat. This provided the fodder for his first article with The Rolling Stone - a magazine that would provide a platform for many of his future articles - such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Thompson was hired by Sports Illustrated to do a photo journal, where he would write the captions, of a mint motorcycle race in Las Vegas. What precipitated from this event was the Rolling Stone article that evolved into the popular book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was later made into a very good film of the same title, released in 1998: starring Johnny Depp, as Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as his attorney, Dr. Gonzo / Oscar Acosta. The original article was rejected by the sports magazine and was published by the Hunter S. Thompson standby, The Rolling Stone.
It was one of the initial works of Thompson to incorporate his "Gonzo" style of writing, an irreverent method of distilling the facts of the events surrounding an issue, and then completely discarding that perceived truth, and thereby arranging a story, that in an odd way encapsulates an overall relative truth, with Thompson himself as one of the central characters. His first article to enlist his inventive style of storytelling was his ode to the Kentucky Derby - The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.
Thompson's irreverent Gonzo style continued when he wrote his next book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. In this treatise, the Good Doctor wrote of his impressions of the 1972 Presidential Campaign, where he not only was completely nonobjective but sought to influence the Democrat Primary in favor of his candidate, Minnesota Senator George McGovern, by promoting a slanderous rumor about Maine Senator Edmund Muskie's narcotics usage. During the campaign Thompson learned to absolutely hate President Richard M. Nixon, but it was the Senator from Maine that fared the worst from his treatment.
Advance treatment of this and other issues pertaining to this campaign was handled through his advance excerpts submitted to The Rolling Stone. This slanderous commentary of alleged drug use, in regards to Senator Muskie, was well reported and well read, and not only influenced the behavior of the campaigning senator, but the primary nomination itself.
Hunter S. Thompson reported that Senator Edmund Muskie had become addicted to the drug ibogaine - a drug that is often used to inhibit one's possible addiction to morphine. The documentary dealt extensively with this subject, and related how Thompson used the discussion of Muskie's erratic emotional behavior to exhibit examples of the effects of his addiction to this arcane drug. For those of us who remember the behavior of Muskie, who would on occasion publicly weep, this satirical slander by the Gonzo Thompson was profound hilarity, and, from the documentary, watching him profess that he was only exploring a well documented rumor - that he admittedly started - just punctuated the fun.
Trust me on this one issue regarding the documentary: The gun-toting (owned 22 handguns and many rifles - some semiautomatic) counterculture icon was a funny guy, and therefore Director Gibney, being true to the tale of the Gonzo story teller, told a tragic, but very outrageously funny depiction of "Dr." Hunter S. Thompson's outrageous life.
Johnny Depp, who was befriended by Thompson when he studied the man as he researched his role as Raoul Duke, did an admirable job as the narrator and reader of Thompson's lyrical prose throughout the documentary. Those people who knew Thompson, such as renowned author Tom Wolfe, were most descriptive in their onscreen analyzation of the colorful character. Their depiction of the eccentric Thompson presented his life, which was an aforementioned major component of his literature's subject matter, that ultimately won a place in the public psyche.
Garry Trudeau, the author of Doonesbury, incorporated the character of Duke (from Raoul Duke) into his strip that was visually and materially Hunter S. Thompson. This was an irrevocable symbol of how the previously unknown Thompson, lurking in the back of the room, had become so well known that his bizarre life had become a caricature within a popular comic strip, and sadly, it was fairly accurate. Hunter S. Thompson, who strove to be different from everything in every way, became a captive man within his own persona, as he lived a life that was interesting, but not much different from that of the caricatured depiction of Raoul Duke.
Rated R. Released on DVD November 18, 2008
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.