Too many people in this gutless world have come under the impression that writers are a race of finks, queer and candy asses to be bilked, cheated and mocked as a form of commercial sport. It should be noted, therefore, in the public interest, that some writers possess .44 Magnums and can puncture beer cans with 240-grain slugs from that weapon at a distance of 150 yards. — Hunter S. Thompson
The annual Boston French film festival is currently underway at the Museum of Fine Arts, and Mr. Pinault’s been dropping heavy hints about his desire to see a French film or two or four. I wholly support his yen to stay abreast of his native country’s cinematic output, but me, well, I’ll freak out if I have to sit through another introspective and poignant film about romance, sickness, friendship, and/or coming of age featuring adorable French people cavorting around claustrophobic apartments. So I applied my wifely wiles and we end up seeing Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a documentary by Alex Gibney, the guy who did the jaw-dropping Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Gonzo is a documentary about the writing and exploits of the iconoclastic drug-inhaling gun-loving journalist Hunter S. Thompson. 2 hours may seem an excessive running time except for avowed fans, but even non-fans can be riveted by the varied sources and historical events that are seamlessly blended together. From Thompson’s breakthrough 1966 book about his time with the Hell’s Angels to his immediate and prophetic reaction to 9/11, his uncanny insight and unconventional style is shown in the context of its origins.
There are expected interviews with Thompson’s wives and son, his crazed illustrator Ralph Steadman, colleague Tom Wolfe, and Rolling Stone founder Jann Werner, but then there’s also anecdotes from admirers like Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Buffet, and George McGovern. Johnny Deep (billed as the narrator) reads a number of excerpts from Thompson’s writing over actual and re-created footage.
I’ve always considered Thompson a genius, but this movie made me see him in a different light: As genuine. One fellow reporter from the 1972 campaign trail remarked how the copious amounts of drugs and drinks that Thompson imbibed seemed to have no effect whatsoever on his behavior. But while Thompson’s writing survived and even thrived under the mind-altering substances, it couldn’t persevere over his fame. By the mid-70s, his first marriage fell apart and Thompson seemed to lose touch with the Gonzo muse that fueled his corrosive and exuberant rhetoric. He would continue writing until his suicide in 2005, an event which is treated in the documentary as the most logical end to Thompson’s life. By the time the movie ends with footage of Thompson’s spectacular funeral, the comparison to Mark Twain seems a bit less outlandish.