Monday, 9 February 2009

The documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is, like most movies today, too long at over two hours. But I felt good on a few occasions. It may have been the music. It may have been the twenty year old girls in the row behind who put their feet on the chair backs.

My bum had started to hurt toward the 90 minute mark, and I was forced to keep shifting in my seat. Fortunately, I was sitting in the front row, among the outcasts, and was, mercifully, alone.

But I probably enjoyed it because it’s intrinsically an interesting story. And Alex Gibney, the director, has filled in a lot of areas that I was ignorant of with interviews with Jann Wenner, so long Rolling Stone‘s editor, ex-president Jimmy Carter and ex-senator McGovern, among others.

There are a lot of holes still to fill in. There are a lot of books to read, and a lot of biographical information to wade through. Maybe on completion of these exercises in adoration (adulation) I’ll be in a better position to answer some of the questions that keep nagging.

I continued to feel good outside, in the bright sunshine. But I’ve still to get on top of what Hunter S. Thompson was really all about. The rock star treatment he met with after covering the Democratic campaign in 1972 bewilders me. His suicide (2005) bewilders me. His move to Gonzo journalism, too, bewilders me.

I’m not bewildered by his dumping a good woman, his first wife, because at that time there was a lot of pussy around. She mentions an ‘affair’ but the similarity between these scenes and the Hells Angels gang bang he chronicled earlier in his career is striking. But I am bewildered by the 22 guns - all loaded - he kept for entertainment purposes.

And I’m a little surprised by the infatuation with football. I mean, this is supposed to be a writer, for gosh sakes. What I do know for sure is that Thompson kept pushing, and doing it for a long time.

He pushed his body - clearly his constitution was too strong for his own health - as hard as he pushed the boundaries of journalism. His switch to Gonzo (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972)) was a result of his involvement in the Berkeley subculture in the early 1960s.

The routine use of hallucinogenic drugs made it easy, if he was searching for an unusual angle, to move over the line separating the alcohol abuse of the regular American community from the habits of those who try something a little more physically gratifying. Maybe the combination of a hard scrabble childhood, an iron constitution and a desire for fame through writing means that Thompson was simply a one-off.

In future I’d like to see Keanu Reeves play Thompson. They both have that rapid-fire, deadpan delivery typical of American TV broadcasters.

Overall it’s a good documentary, although the lack of captions for some of the talking heads, after their first appearance, was disconcerting. We’re not all 60 year old Americans, after all.


Anonymous said...

"And I’m a little surprised by the infatuation with football. I mean, this is supposed to be a writer, for gosh sakes."

Huh? Sport is for dumb people, is that what you mean?

Matthew da Silva said...

Sorry this is a personal thing. I'm always stupefied by the amount of sport coverage that gets produced compared with literature coverage. Apologies if i caused offence.