Sunday, February 5, 2017


          Hunter S. Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, Doctor of Journalism. In his Hawaiian shirt, white bucket hat, and aviator glasses, long-stemmed cigarette holder in hand, he became a bona fide pop culture hero, an "action figure for the underground" who wrote himself into stories as a larger-than -life character and found himself prisoner of a fictional persona.
          The 1978 BBC Omnibus production Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision captures Thompson's awareness of his own myth taking over. "I'm an appendage," he says, within moments of vehemently lamenting accidentally dropping a baggie on-camera. "I'm no longer necessary, I'm in the way."
          Of the several documentaries available for viewing, the above is the seminal source worth hunting down. It's so good, in fact, the 2006 HST tribute Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride uses clips from it seemingly about half of the time. Released in the year following Thompson's suicide, the film features the writer's famous actor friends singing his praises, lamenting his loss, and recalling the feature films Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), starring Bill Murray as Thompson, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), starring Johnny Depp as Thompson's effectively indistinguishable alter-ego, Dr. Duke.
          Narrated by Nick Nolte, the most notable aspect of the film is the inexplicable inclusion at the start of a snippish Gary Busey unintentionally revealing his prima donna side. Amusing as this is to behold, it has nothing to do with Hunter Thompson, and only serves to warn us how swinish the production proves.
          He catapulted to counterculture fame in 1966 with Hell's Angels, his straightforward and excellent account of the legendary outlaw motorcycle group as an embedded reporter. His masterpiece, however, was published a few years later. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas showcases his fictional counterpart, in quasi-journalistic literary style, on a "savage journey into the heart of the American Dream."
          Thompson's "writer as cult figure" status took root during the Psychedelic era when a surreal, stylized approach toward taking the Establishment to task was the gestalt of the younger generation. BBC's 1978 Gonzovision stands out because it was made at the tail end of those times, still part of the scene, yet removed enough to reflect back.
          Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008) also merits inspection. In an especially interesting chapter of his life, Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in 1970 as the "Freak Party" candidate. He shaved his balding head completely so that during campaign speeches he could point to the other guy and say, "Unlike my long-haired opponent..." And he actually came within a hair's breadth of winning.
          Decadent depravity freely feared and loathed online.

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