July 27th: Batshit Insane Country

Gonzo

155. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, 2008)

Hunter S. Thompson is probably one of the most important journalists of the late 20th Century. The searing highs of his Fear and Loathing books will remain unique milestones in American literature – if you get the chance then read them. This documentary, narrated by Johnny Depp is, an encompassing look at the man.

I’m drawn to Thompson, he clearly wasn’t afraid of confrontation and radical thinking and a pretty extreme approach to life all round. He clearly inspired a following judging by the amount of people who would party with him at the drop of a hat.

The term Gonzo, meaning ‘Gonzo Journalism’, was coined to describe Thompson’s work. It involved the journalist themselves becoming subsumed into their story, writing it as a first person narrative and occasionally including fictional elements for exaggerated effect. Thompson’s work for Rolling Stone was scathing, angry and insightful at the time that it was produced, he represented the bleeding of the counter-culture into the mainstream. With his reports from the Democratic primaries in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 he stumbled into the heart of America’s internal machinery and decided he didn’t like what he saw. The access he had then would be impossible now which makes the book even more important.

All this is covered in the film but so is the less savoury side of Thompson, the rampant alcoholism, the gun obsession, the womanising and his eventual suicide. It’s easy to romanticise but the documentary is brave enough to include the criticism from his ex-wife about the way he ended his life and his brazen affairs. This stops the film from merely being a one-sided glorification of the man. Hunter S. Thompson could be a lazy ingrate, but he could write like no other and this is a fitting testament.

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