The Freak Power Base (GONZO: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson)

August 13, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in movies | 2 Comments

Hunter S. Thompson: I’d like 3 margaritas and 6 beers.
Waitress: Are you expecting additional parties, sir?
Hunter S. Thompson: Well, you can find out what the people next to me want, but I want 3 margaritas and 6 beers.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson
Cinema Arts Centre – August 3, 2008

Unfortunately, I have come to realize how rare it is that I venture on a film documentary or what the industry deems a “bio pic”. Not a regular watcher of PBS or the History Channel, I tend to focus more on fiction rather than fact, for no particular reason really. So when I come across a subject of interest – such as a crazy but brilliant writer like Hunter S. Thompson – the opportunity to learn perks up in me… and this review is the result. Now, it would be nice to think that this may turn into a 9th grade book report on Hunter’s life and work, but that’s what the movie is all about. That and the many shocked and inspired reactions that come from witnessing a life lived beyond the edge.

When someone rattles the cages of society, it garners attention. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. It shifts focus to what’s really important and causes people to look at things differently. Hunter S. Thompson was one of those people, and for much longer than most (that is to say I) realize. I learned a lot from and about this man and here are some of the highlights for me:

– This film opened up my eyes to how journalism can affect the willing public.

– In 1966, Random House published the hard cover Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The book launched Hunter’s career and was an exposé on the controversial lives of the Hell’s Angels, with whom Hunter spent a significant amount of time not only observing but participating in the debauchery of avid drugs and mayhem. Hunter disbanded his relationship with the Angel’s after a few gave him a “stomping” and was renounced by an Angel on live television, citing that most of his book was bunch of bull.

– How government officials can seize on an seemingly significant indiscretion that ruins a Presidential campaign, only to allow another politician to take office and proceed to do much more egregious acts by comparison. (McGovern v. Nixon) These articles were combined and published as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

Thompson for Sheriff: In 1978, Hunter ran for the Sheriff position in Pitkin County, Colorado (A fact I never knew). The platform included promoting the decriminalization of drugs (for personal use only, not trafficking, as he disapproved of profiteering), tearing up the streets and turning them into grassy pedestrian malls, banning any building so tall as to obscure the view of the mountains, and renaming Aspen “Fat City” to deter investors. In the article for Rolling Stone entitled The Battle for Aspen, he ran under the the same platform as Joe Edwards who had run for Mayor of Aspen.

Wiki: Though unsuccessful, the Edwards campaign was notable for its attempt to garner nearly all of its support from ‘freaks’, ‘heads’, and ‘dropouts’ from the surrounding areas – Freak Power, as it was dubbed. Thompson, who became de-facto campaign manager for Edwards during the race, devotes much of the article to the local politics of Aspen and the entrenched politicians it supports. Simultaneously a screed against politicians who sacrifice the quality of life of their constituents for short term gain or notoriety, and an outline of optimism regarding the possibility of the marginalized to take power, the article details the campaign from its inception through the run-up to election and ends with a consideration of the results and the impact they may have had.

After also unsuccessful gaining the post, Pitkin County officials changed the election rules so that no one like him could ever run again… lol

– Hunter drank a bottle of whiskey a day, in addition to whatever he consumed in pill form. For many, many years.

The Birth of Gonzo: Hunter pioneered a new writing style called Gonzo Journalism, a mixture of fact and fiction written in first person narrative. Read as rantings and ravings coupled with keen observation and a sprinkling of truth.

– Ralph Steadman first met Hunter when Scanlan’s Monthly hired Steadman to do the illustrations for Thompson’s first venture into gonzo journalism called “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” Hunter became interested in Ralph Steadman as an illustrator and commissioned him to do some work. They became fast friends and continued to do many projects together. However, there is a clearly noticable change in Steadman’s work after meeting Thompson. According to his wife, Steadman had never done hard drugs before. You be the judge, to me it’s amazing either way.

Steadman’s art prior:

Steadman Artwork Courtesy of British Cartoon Archive

Ralph Steadman Artwork Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive

British Cartoon Archive

Steadman’s art post-Thompson:

Gonzo is the essence of irony. You dare not take it seriously. You have to laugh.” – Steadman

– Hunter became inspired by Jimmy Carter when he spoke at a press conference. Instead of running for his frequent cigarette break, he went and grabbed his tape recorder and proceeded to play it for anyone who would listen.

– He had two wives and a son (Juan Fitzgerald Thompson) by his first wife Sandy Conklin. The couple had conceived five more times together. (Three were miscarried, two pregnancies produced infants who died shortly after birth.) Hunter and Sandy divorced in 1980 but remained close friends until Thompson’s death. He had married his long-time assistant, Anita Bejmuk in 2003. In the film, she states that Hunter had promised her ten years together.

– After Bush’s re-election in 2004, Hunter became very depressed, according to his wife. Based on all the amazing advocacy he has done in the past, its a wonder he didn’t start an uprising. Could you imagine the resurgence of anti-political support if Hunter had stood up and led the charge?

– His suicide had been planned for a long time. Hunter always knew he was going to kill himself, it was just a matter of where and when. He erected a statue for his memorial modeled after the two thumbed hand carrying an peyote pellet seen on his sheriff poster. His son recalls the time before his death as somewhat oddly, a warm family bonding experience.

Highly recommended as a rental, due to its short-lived theatrical run. There is also another pair of documentaries about Thompson’s life which are heavily referenced in this film called “Breakfast with Hunter” and “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride” which I will soon be renting from the local library.

RATING: *****/5
Recommendation: Rent it when it comes out… or if you own Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you should buy it.



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  1. undeniably…..

  2. Thanks for good post

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