Friday, August 29, 2008
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008, Alex Gibney)
I discovered Hunter S. Thompson sometime in Middle School. Like many people it began with me renting a vhs copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, being amazed by its craziness, and then having my mind blown when finding out that its all based on a real story. It took me a couple of months until I finally sat down and read the book but I was hooked from the first page and became a fan for life. Over the years I have read more of his writings and my admiration for him has only grown more and more. It seems like a trendy thing to belong to the cult that thinks that Thompson is the man, but anyone who has read his stuff or has even seen Fear and Loathing can not deny it: Hunter S. Thompson is simply the man.
Few people can actually fit the description of being “man, myth, and legend” without the description seeming a bit tongue in cheek but Hunter is one of the few who still continues to be all of these three things even after his death. Alex Gibney’s documentary chooses to present the beloved icon that Hunter S. Thompson is by simply chronicling his life and work from his childhood up until his memorable funeral in hopes of showing you what exactly made Thompson so special. Every aspect of his career from his first big break writing about The Hells Angels, to his failed attempt at running for Sheriff, to his days as a political journalist are explored through a narration by Johnny Depp, old voice recordings and clips, and various interviews with people that knew Thompson.
Now, I am all for praising Thompson for 2 hours and glorifying him even more. I already sort of knew that the documentary would be just that the moment that I heard it was being made so there was little shock to see it play the “Hunter was the REAL DEAL you guys. Seriously, like, he was” card. I have no issues at all with this just because I love the man. But where I do have issues is the Vh1 documentary execution of it all.
VH1 documentary execution? Yeah. You know when you are watching those documentaries that VH1 decides to air once every now and then and they have the same vibe and look to them? You know, the ones where every time they talk about the 60s it cuts to the same stock footage of people rioting in the streets in Chicago while Jimi Hendrix sings “Hey Joe”. Or every time they talk about hippies or drug use it cuts to stock footage of people wearing flower dresses in a field while “Mr. Tambourine Man” plays. There really isn’t thing that bad about it only that it’s so terribly cliché and played out that it seems like these whole little stock footage segments are just being copy and pasted into everything. It’s just lazy.
Since Thompson was placed right in the middle of all these changes that happened in America through out the 60s and 70s we are treated to an orgy of these VH1 documentary style stock footage (with cliché music and all) with some generally awesome Thompson being bat shit crazy as usual footage to go along with it. You kind of wish that with such a strange and unique character Thompson was that Gibney would actually choose to make his documentary fit in with his lead subject instead of going down such a by the numbers path.
Fans of Thompson will recognize all of the footage that is used, will know the stories, and already know why he is so loved. So, I can only guess that this documentary was made for people who don’t know much about why he is considered a legend. It serves its purpose in that it does show you who he was and why he was special. It’s just presented with such a lackluster style to it all that it truly lessens Hunter S. Thompson’s grand life and in turn makes what could have been a spectacular documentary exploring that life into an uninspired one that really doesn’t do justice at all to the man,myth, and legend that is and was Hunter S. Thompson.