Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hunter Thompson Goes to Hollywood 1978


"I don't see how you could possibly make a true film. Because by bringing all this machinery in, you create a situation that's unnatural anyway. It's not you. It's, I think, one of the problems with film." - Hunter S. Thompson

There have been a number of interesting films about gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and inspired by his work. For those who don't know, Thompson was a freelance journalist who stumbled onto a method of covering stories by becoming involved and enmeshed in them, covering the story itself only glancingly, focusing on the externals and his own first-person experiences with drugs.

Most white American young men who read books go through a Hunter S. Thompson phase, kind of like the equivalent of an Ayn Rand phase but with more mescaline and Wild Turkey. But Thompson's work has lasting journalistic and literary value. It is a helpful aid for understanding an era when men went to the moon, the best leaders in the world were assassinated, and a president was driven from office for reasons of his own greed and stupidity.

The BBC doc, FEAR & LOATHING ON THE ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD is one of the best documents of Thompson's persona and aesthetic. Thompson hijacks the very medium of the road documentary by being an unwilling subject and soon the whole crew is in on the joke - albeit with an appropriate shaky wariness. There are guest appearances by artist Ralph Steadman and Bill Murray, along with his brother Brian Doyle-Murray and Nixon's General Counsel and Watergate star witness John Dean.

Thompson and the filmmakers make some pretty interesting points about the reality of a person versus the legend that grows up around him. It's not facile. It's not rock-star, catch-phrase Thompson. It's good stuff.

Plus, it's nice hearing a BBC voice as warm and familiar as a piping cup of Earl Grey saying things like:

"Day three. Las Vegas. 12 o'clock noon. We should have left for Hollywood at 9 but Thompson has locked himself in his hotel room. When he finally lets us in his face is covered in white makeup."

Here's that film:


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