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GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON(director/writer: Alex Gibney; cinematographer: Maryse Alberti; editor: Alison Ellwood; music: David Schwartz; Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alex Gibney/Graydon Carter/Jason Kliot/Joana Vicente/Ms. Ellwood/Eva Orner; Magnolia Pictures; 2008)
“It’s good stuff, and serves as a valuable piece of recent history to be documented.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”/”Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) directs an entertaining and detailed straightforward documentary on the trailblazing journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the creator of gonzo journalism, who after becoming a recognizable anti-establishment journalist committed suicide at age 66 in 2005 by putting a bullet in his head. It tracks Hunter’s humble beginnings as a poor kid raised in Kentucky by his single parent librarian mom; his breakthrough feature story in 1966 in the Nation and subsequent best-selling book, telling of his adventures while he was embedded with the outlaw motorcycle gang the Hell’s Angels; his days reporting on the ‘flower- power’ scene in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashberry; his rebellious failed but close attempt to shake up the establishment as the quirky counter-culture candidate for sheriff in his Aspen, Colo. residence as he advocated “freak power”; the druggie escapades behind his masterpiece story about chasing the American Dream in his landmark piece of journalism of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; his reporting on the failed George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972, the candidate he befriended and actively supported while writing about him for Rolling Stone; and eventually to his many personal problems taking a toll and stunting his literary ability, that include his divorce from Sandy and marriage to Anita, his excessive wild lifestyle, owning too many guns, fooling around with too many women while married, drinking too much and taking too many drugs. As a result, he began to become a parody of his cartoonish celebrity self and wrote his own ticket out of this world with a gun after being depressed over the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004–something he feared to be a sign that the end of civilization was approaching.

Gibney interviews Hunter’s two wives; his adult son Juan; Jann Wenner, his sympathetic publisher boss at Rolling Stone; Nixon’s gleeful conservative adviser Pat Buchanan; illustrator and Brit friend Ralph Steadman; Jimmy Carter and George McGovern. Excerpts of Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” are played throughout and Depp also reads excerpts from Thompson’s work. At the end of the day we know precious little more about the inner workings of the complicated man than we did before, except Gibney seems to like what he stood for and gives him an uncritical, tender and elegiac send off that I thought was much deserved. The talented writer who was flawed but reached an innovative cutting edge in his journalism that few other contemporaries had dared pursue will find many in his choir (including me) who will find his rabble-rousing presence missed, if for no other reasons than his caustic wit and his ability to nail down a truth about modern times and the doings of the corrupt ruling class of the country will find few other journalists on this lonely path to replace him with such unflinching reporting.

It’s good stuff, and serves as a valuable piece of recent history to be documented.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”