CJSF Volunteer, Rose Marie Borutski, reviews Gonzo: the Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson
I came to this docudrama wondering why yet another. What could possibly be shown and said that had not been previously?
Hunter S. Thompson has been portrayed and explained to a ridiculous degree as a brilliant, drunken, addicted, writer peaking in his early thirties in the late sixties and committing suicide in his late sixties. The year of his birth 1937. He committed suicide at 67. His career peaked during 1967-1972, when he aged 30-37. He resurfaced from his disillusionment when his nightmares manifested in 9/11.
The mystic of Hunter S. Thompson has become stretched so thin, it finally becomes transparent, and caricaturized in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury. Nothing else to do but own it, confess to being nothing more than a good read - which he does toward the end of the docudrama. His shame visible in his glances away from the camera, and downcast eyes mutes the contempt, machismo, arrogance, superiority, and idealism of his earlier life:
“I feel blessed, to be able to sit and think...I've done that, yeah.
I'm an idiot. I'm a fool. I know. But I've been a good read, right?
I'm not like, Pat Boone, right?
Hunter S. Thompson was “a good read” in the same way Thompson might say “a good fuck.” That might mean he was a good all around American good guy, and his demeanor is reminiscent of Pat Boone, and it might reference how he thought of his own talents – as mediocre. He felt he failed to do the transformative work he aspired to, waylaid by his lust for stardom.
He was the socialist, the Karl Marx of the seventies albeit with sex, drugs, rock and roll. He might have been the dark knight albeit without the branding costume. He parallels the man Jesus in Bart Ehrman's “Pagan Christ.” His biography reads like the spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of 1966, and so it should. He was the quintessential renaissance man rising from the 60's delivered to do word smithing to the draconians destroying the American Dream.
Hunter Thompson's branding was Gonzo, a term invented to depict his spirit for idealist, radical, fundamental organizational change, as much as his mastery of parody and hyperbole with his writing. Parody and hyperbole utilizes metaphor, mockery, satire, exaggerating statements mixing truth and fiction, not meant to be taken literally yet invoking strong impression. Thompson knew he needed to do more than grab attention, he needed to shock and awe in order to get people to stop and think about the absurdity of situations he witnessed. With his article “Derby is decadent and depraved,” Thompson releases the force of disgust and contempt meant to shock the square:
“We had come to watch the real beasts perform...thousands of raving stumbling drunks getting angrier and angrier as they lost more and more money...the mask of the whiskey gentry...inevitable result of too much inbreeding.”
Thompson stylized everyday water-cooler talk simply saying what everyone already knew but was politically incorrect to publicize. No one knows how much was strategic, conscious, insightful effort, how much was happenstance.
The music “Spirit in the Sky” drums through several scenes in Gonzo. The music captures the beat of the time and the time when Hunter peaked, and encapsulates the spirit of idealism, utopia inhabited by Thompson, still out there, still too high to be achieved by moralists and mortals, still the spirit in the sky at
“...a time when a together Hunter Thompson [with his mastery of parody and hyperbole] could make a difference in this country.” (ex-wife - Sandi Thompson)
I exited carrying more disillusionment than I needed, concluding the docudrama served as a extended, elaborate trailer for the upcoming movie, Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp. What could possibly be shown and said that had not been previously and was already on Wiki? Then again, refreshed and repackaged reruns kick-start interest and curiosity and go a long way toward transforming draconians four decades later.