We were somewhere in San Francisco when we popped the DVD in and began watching the movie. I was reviewing the documentary Gonzo: The Life & Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. It was the second week of December and the review was almost one month over due, but as the subject of the documentary was a journalist notorious for never handing anything in on time, I didnt feel too bad about it.
The film opens in a typical chronological fashion with Hunters childhood. We follow along and see how he finds his way into journalism and his first big break, what would eventually become his first book Hells Angels. As I watch the film I reflect back on my own relationship with his work. Having read both Angels and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas as well as having seen the film a million times, I realized that outside that limited knowledge of his work I knew little about the rogue journalist. For example, I never knew that he ran for Sheriff in Aspen, which made the viewing of this documentary all the more interesting and entertaining.
The film then moves onto the birth of Gonzo journalism and his most famous book, Fear and Loathing, then onto his years covering politics then ultimately to his decline in popularity then of course, his suicide. The film is very well put together, being a mix of interviews, dramatic reenactments, photos and of course archive footage of the good doctor himself. Who better to talk about Thompson than himself?
Also, throughout the film excerpts from his many recorded tapes are played allowing us an intimate listen into his life. These audio excerpts are great, but few and far between. However, if whats in the film isnt enough for you then you can always buy “The Gonzo Tapes” CD box set. Five discs of Hunters ramblings from insightful to insane. The quality of the sound hasnt been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, but they dont need to be. If this sounds like a shameless plug, then I must admit that it is, but I wouldnt be doing it if I didnt honestly think the box set was interesting and worth the investment.
The only flaw I see with the film is the lack of insight from Johnny Depp. He appears in the film only as a narrator of sorts, reading excerpts from Thompsons books. But Depp spent several months with the man learning his mannerisms as to play him in the film and they ultimately became good friends. More on this time of their life together would be nice to hear about, sadly it is absent from this film.
All-in-all, though, this is a wonderful documentary. It is well structured and overflows with wonderful information about the man, the myth and the legend. Perhaps if youre a super Thompson fanatic you wont find much new here, but to hear his friends, family and himself talk about him gives new perspective even on stuff you may have already known. Whether youre a long time fan or just starting to get interested in the man, this documentary is a wonderful way to spend some time with him.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and 2.0 Mono sound. From new interviews to archival footage the quality of the presentation varies but the filmmakers never use anything bad enough to distract from the over all film.
Commentary by director Alex Gibney This is a great commentary. Gigney knows his subject through and through and provides wonderful new insight into many scenes that is not so apparent in the film. He explains why certain songs were used and provides tons of wonderful new information. Only a few times does he fall into describing what’s seen on the screen.
Deleted Scenes: (19 min.) You get five of these, they are mostly archive footage, one is a commercial for the San Francisco Chronicle starring Hunter. These are decent deleted scenes.
Extended Interviews: (34 min.) You get nineteen of these from Ralph Steadman to Pat Buchanan and Jimmy Carter, these are interesting and provide even more insight from what is used in the film. Worthy of your time.
Drawings by Ralph Steadman: A gallery of Steadman’s art which is all very interesting to look at.
Hunter’s Guns: This is a list of all of the good doctor’s guns.
“Wayward and Weary” by Tift Merritt: (4 min.) This is a song that the performer wrote inspired by watching the film. Frankly, it’s not that good.
Promotional Material: There are promotions for the soundtrack, the book and “The Gonzo Tapes” with 7 minutes of the tapes presented for your listening enjoyment.
Hunter S. Thompson was one of the greatest American journalists with a fresh and often times controversial eye for his material. This is a fitting remembrance of the man and his work and is most certainly worth watching whether you’re a fan or not.
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Directed by Alex Gibney. Starring Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchannan. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: November 18, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Johnny Depp