Oscar® winning director Alex Gibney presents a probing look into the uncanny life of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson inventor of gonzo journalism and author of the landmark Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Accompanied by an iconic s... more »oundtrack, this fast moving, wildly entertaining film addresses the major touchstones in Thompson s life from his intense and ill fated relationship with the Hell s Angels to his deep involvement in Senator George McGovern s 1972 presidential election.« less
"On February 20, 2005, the end of an era was blown out not with a whisper but with a bang. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson chose that day to end his own life by committing suicide with one of the many guns he owned. It was a loss for a generation that grew up reading him in Rolling Stone Magazine, a loss for fans and a loss for journalism.
While two films (WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) were made about his life, it is only now that Hunter reaches the screen in his own words, in his own actions via the newly released documentary GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON. And what a treat it is to see and hear him speak for himself.
The film looks back at the entire life of this maverick that changed the face of journalism by making it not just about looking at issues from the outside in, but from the inside out. Gonzo journalism often placed the writer into the scene of what was being written about since that writer was actually there. Gonzo journalists write as participants as opposed to voyeurs. And Hunter was a definite participant.
The film begins with his youth covering the usual biopic necessities of what possibly made him choose the direction he did. But it moves forward to his youth when he chose to be a writer and pursue that dream. Not only did he pursue it, he got involved in it.
The first break Hunter found was when he commingled with the motorcycle gang the Hells Angels to find out just what they were all about. The pieces he put together on the gang were wrapped up into a book titled HELLS ANGELS that was considered the quintessential source of information on gangs. A falling out with the gang led to Hunter's moving on to another topic.
Those topics were wide in range but always confronted with the brutal honesty as seen through the eyes of Thompson. Be it the Democratic convention in Chicago where the peace and love generation was beaten down by those in power or the great American dream demolished in his eyes as the city of Las Vegas, Hunter took typewriter ink to paper and using wit and a skewered sense of words defined the world for his generation.
Hunter's involvement in politics is shown ranging from his own run as sheriff of Aspen to his following the campaign trail in 1972 elections. Having been alive to witness the end of an era with the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Hunter found hope in the form of George McGovern. But that was never to be.
But all things change. And this is where the truly sad part of the story of Hunter S. Thompson slopes downward. The involvement with drugs and alcohol combined with the glory brought on by celebrity status took its toll on Thompson. No longer able to blend in without being recognized his ability to cover a story changed as did his life.
The movie is an examination of a writer whose works are still read today. The director uses interviews with people who knew Hunter intimately like his wives, son and business partner to those who got to know him while he covered their stories. Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels, Ralph Steadman, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and more all find screen time discussing this amazing author. Each has their own personal vision of who Hunter was and how he affected them.
What we are left with is the story of a man who wanted to change the world only to have the world change him. In some ways for the better, but not always. The words of Thompson describing flying bats and lizard people during hallucinogenic experiences were perhaps nowhere near as frightening as the real life demons he confronted as his life changed. Perhaps it was one of those demons that urged him on to commit the final deed of his life.
What one walks away with after watching this film is perhaps a little more understanding of the man. Perhaps you walk away with an interest in finding those items that he wrote. But more than anything you walk away with a feeling of loss at never having appreciated him to his full extent while he was here with us. A dynamite film that informs, entertains and shines a light on a true talent. "
A Restrained View of Thompson, but a Good Introduction with
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 11/30/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" is an overview of the life and passions of Hunter S. Thompson, inventor of "gonzo" journalism and iconic hero of liberalism -at least for those liberals who didn't mind all the guns. Through interviews with an impressive variety of Thompson's friends and associates, narration by Johnny Depp, and archival footage of Thompson himself, director Alex Gibney takes us through Thompson's life, concentrating on his career and image. The story starts in earnest in 1965, when Thompson was "imbedded" with the Hell's Angels for over a year, his first exercise in participatory journalism and the subject of his first book, "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" (1966).
That's followed by Thompson's experience of the 1968 Democratic Convention, his bid for Sheriff of Aspen on a pro-marijuana platform in 1970, the story behind "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", and his work for "Rolling Stone" magazine, including his coverage of the McGovern-Nixon presidential campaign, which became "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail `72", and finally his suicide in 2005. The film doesn't attempt to be a comprehensive biography. Thompson's years in the Air Force are not even mentioned, for example. I was pleasantly surprised by the array of people who consented to be interviewed: his first wife Sondi Wright (Sandy Thompson at the time), Tom Wolfe, former President Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Pat Buchanan, "Rolling Stone" co-founder Jan Wenner, Jimmy Buffett, Thompson's frequent collaborator the artist Ralph Steadman, among others.
Alex Gibney is conventional in his approach to his unconventional subject. He doesn't criticize Thompson as much as he might or glorify him as much as fans sometimes do. This attempt at objectivity makes "Gonzo" a good introduction to Hunter S. Thompson but also a bit bland. Ralph Steadman's art work is used liberally throughout the film, which is great. And there is some attempt to convey Thompson's eventual frustration with the public persona that he had fostered. Though "Gonzo" isn't a fawning look at the man, it is a fond look. Thompson's rejection of the sham of objectivity in journalism may be admirable, he was a man who liked to scrutinize other people's ethics much more than his own. "Gonzo" leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about things like that. At times I wished that it were more incisive, but there is a lot of interesting material here.
The DVD (Magnolia 2008): Bonus features include 5 deleted scenes, 19 extended interviews, a gallery of 75 drawings by Ralph Steadman, 8 Photo Galleries, including old photos, pages from Thompson's notebooks, and other memorabilia, a list of 18 of Hunter's Guns, a tribute performance of "Wayward and Weary" by Tift Merritt (4 min), 2 audio excerpts from "The Gonzo Tapes" of Thompson and Oscar Acosta in Las Vegas 1971, and a feature commentary by director Alex Gibney. Gibney takes us through the when, where, and what we see in the film, providing some additional understanding of the footage, and he offers comments on Thompson. Subtitles are available for the film in Spanish."
Less Substance Than I Expected
Tome Raider | California, United States | 12/04/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I've been intrigued by HST ever since I was a kid growing up in Evergreen, Colorado in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Word of the "Freak Ticket" and its mighty and outrageous leader made its way over the mountains from Aspen and astonished all of us. His audacity echoed in those mountains (and still does to this day). I also recall perusing those famous issues of Rolling Stone at the Walgreen's magazine counter where HST told-tale of all his intrepid investigations, and where sinister evil seemed to lurk around every dark corner. And my appreciation for his unique approach to things has grown as I've matured. I see him as a patriot, and as a courageous one at that. It takes courage to tell the truth about things--or something close to the truth, but conveyed in a very interesting way--especially when there are lots of powerful forces out there praying for your demise, and maybe even plotting it.
I haven't read everything HST wrote, but I've read most of it, and I've read a biography or two as well. I was delighted when I heard about this documentary, and I rented it off of Netflix the moment it was listed. And, yes, I'll probably end up buying it for my library of 1960's retrospectives. I'm absolutely fascinated by everything that happened in the US--and the world as well--between 1965 and 1975. It was an amazingly vital and dynamic period of our history, and will probably never again be matched during my life or the life of my children. HST was a major player in several of those realms from that period.
But, on the whole, this documentary seemed a little flat to me. I was vaguely confused from time to time. It seemed lacking in continuity. For example, they discuss the Ali/Frazer fight in Africa in the early 1970's--which HST buoycotted because he thought Ali was going to be destroyed; so, instead of going to the fight, HST took a swim--and then the next phase shows HST in the late 1990's or early 2000's--swollen, belligerent, dysfunctional, bizarre. They omitted almost everything relating to the three decade time-frame in between. Those decades were his decades of decline; I would have liked to know the particulars of why and how.
I was frequently distracted by trying to figure out where and when a given episode occured. The presentation was definitely not a chronological presentation, and so the viewer has to establish their own time line of events. It was repeatedly difficult to place the descriptions of disparate developments into any type of exacting, fluid context. The film needed a voice-over narrator to provide segue continuity and to make for a comprehensive, smooth examination of the man and his event-rich life. Instead, we get this varied, slightly jagged, series of interviews where sometimes extremely significant events are mentioned, almost in passing. I found myself developing more questions as the film went along rather than getting answers. I looked HST up on Wikipedia this morning, and there were dozens of interesting features to this man's career which were not even alluded to in this documentary--major gaps relating to essential aspects of his life story. (Example: his falling out with Jann Wenner and aborted assignments to Vietnam and elsewhere.)
True, I'm grateful to have seen the great footage, much of which I had never seen before. And the interviews with Jann Wenner,Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, HST's wives, and McGovern and some of the others did provide some salient insights. But my curiosity continued to grow rather than to be sated. I would have liked to hear recollections from Johnny Depp, and Bill Murray, two friends who I'm sure could have offered a lot, and I would have liked to have heard more from HST's son, who seems like an articulate and amazingly normal man.
HST was a blemished figure, and probably he is more myth than reality when all is said and done. I recall seeing him on a late night talk show (Leno, I think) in the early 2000's. HST was thoroughly drunk and slurred every word. He was a bloated mess, and, essentially, he was already dead. But, for that magical decade or so, few people burned brighter and more intensely than Hunter S. Thompson. His unique combination of anger and humor is something which will be hard to match, and he is definitely one of the colorful characters from the century which we have just left behind. "
A wonderful documentary:
PokerBen | Colorado, USA | 11/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are a fan of Hunter S. Thompson you will love this movie.
The archival footage is extraordinary,and the interviews are great. Johnny Depp does top notch narration as Hunter.
By the end of this movie, you really get a feel for the man that was Hunter S. Thompson. This was a very deep and moving experience.
Even the soundtrack is flawless!(CCR, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, etc...)
The special features are also superb, with commentary, a music video,audio excerpts,extended interviews,deleted scenes, all the "gonzo" art,and even a photo gallery, plus more.
If you like Hunter, then this is a no-brainer purchase.
I plan to also buy the soundtrack,audio tapes,and books.
Happy "Gonzo" watching."
The edge is still out there
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 12/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The late great Hunter S. Thompson was a mass of walking contradictions, someone who will likely always remain a bit of a cipher. He was a writer whose work was imbued with DFH political idealism and tempered by a full personal commitment to the hedonistic enjoyment of sex, drugs and rock `n' roll; yet he loved to collect guns, watch stuff blow up and counted the likes of Pat Buchanan among his personal friends. I don't envy a biographer in any medium such a daunting task.
In Gonzo: the Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson, director Alex Gibney(Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room) may have discovered the right formula. He takes an approach as scattershot and unpredictable as the subject himself and runs with it, utilizing a frenetic pastiche of talking heads, vintage home movies, feature film clips, animation, rare audio tapes and snippets of prose (voiced by Johnny Depp, who has become Thompson's theatrical avatar, like Hal Holbrook's synonymous identity with Mark Twain). While Gibney keeps the timeline fairly linear, he does make interesting choices along the way-and equally interesting omissions (e.g., Thompson's formative years are given the bum's rush).
Gibney ostensibly begins his film with an examination of the 1966 book Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, which first established Thompson's groundbreaking style of method journalism. An overview of his Rolling Stone reportage ensues, highlighted by the assignment that resulted in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
A lion's share of the film is devoted to two chapters of Thompson's life: his quasi-serious run for sheriff (!) of Aspen Colorado and his coverage of the 1972 presidential elections (recounted in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72). In fact, the segment regarding the 1972 campaign is nearly a stand-alone "film within the film"; it's such a riveting and well-crafted piece that I wished Gibney had expounded even further and turned it into a full-length companion documentary. Gibney also reminds us of something largely forgotten,yet significant-the fact that Thompson was instrumental in bringing then-governor Jimmy Carter into the national political spotlight back in 1974, by championing his amazing Law Day Speech.
Consequently, I think political junkies are going to dig this film a lot more than the fans who remain solely enamored with Hunter S. Thompson's more superficial, substance-fueled "rebel" persona. Excepting the depiction of Thompson's relatively unproductive latter years, which were spent ensconced in his Colorado compound, too distracted by guns, drugs and sycophants to do little else but slowly disappear up his own legend (like Elvis at Graceland) the director admirably suppresses the urge to play up the public notoriety and revel in the writer's recreational excesses.
The film is not without its flaws; the frequent use of Depp clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas becomes distracting and begins to feel like cheating (by contrast, there is only one brief nod to Bill Murray's turn in Where the Buffalo Roam.) This is a minor quibble, because there are some real treasures here as well. Devotees will delight in listening to the audio snippets from the original cassettes that Thompson made while cruising through the Nevada desert with his attorney (the DVD features additional excerpts as an extra).
This is certainly no sugar-coated puff piece; there are several ex-wives and associates aboard who make no bones about reminding us that the man could be a real tool. On the other hand, examples of his genuine humanity and idealism are brought to the fore as well, making for an insightful and fairly balanced overview of his dichotomous nature. What the director does not forget is that, at the end of the day, HST was the most unique American political commentator/ social observer who ever sat down to peck at a bullet-riddled typewriter. We could sure use him now. "