As the lights dim, I wonder about just what it is that I have gotten myself into. The crowd hushes, and the opening scenes begin. A man taps at a typewriter as he narrates in first person what he was doing on the day the twin towers of the World Trade Centre came down. A TV sits in the corner of his lounge room replaying those key scenes of the planes hitting the buildings, as the man explains the consequences of the event on the state of the world. I find myself agreeing with his words and their loaded yet honest truth.
Risking the prospects of a successful career here, I’m going to reveal myself a little. For a journalism student, I’m not particularly well read. US Presidential campaigns? I wouldn’t say I passionately followed the last one. Bikie gangs? Boring, let’s go and grab a coffee. Seminal works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? It’s probably on that long list of books I should read/movies I should see but never get around to. Hunter S. Thompson and gonzo journalism? Oh yeah, that’s vaguely ringing a bell.
I’m watching Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr Hunter S. Thompson. I don’t read any reviews before it and am surprised to discover that it is a documentary, mashing together file footage, previous documentaries and expositions Thompson’s life, interviews with ex-wives and colleagues and excerpts from films, notably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas starring Johnny Depp. Depp also makes an appearance in this homage to the late journalist, acting as narrator to the documentary.
The film runs chronologically, documenting his early days as a struggling freelancer, his year with the Hells Angels resulting in a book of the same name, his close bid for Sheriff in small-town America, the basis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his behaviour and influence during the 1972 McGovern presidential campaign. In a nutshell, Thompson’s ‘gonzo’ style saw his own persona and views inserted into the otherwise bland and objective recounts that were being published as ‘news’ at the time. Rolling Stone magazine acted as the platform for Thompson’s articles, as the man who was continually embroiled in a rock star lifestyle – sex, drugs and more, including guns – became arguably bigger than the stories themselves.
Like the Thompson’s own style, the film is brazen, honest and at times ironic. A 70s soundtrack keeps the story moving along, as does the almost unbelievable accounts of his antics. The man seemed to be constantly skirting the boundaries of both journalism and life, and while Thompson took his own life (via a gun) in 2005, his legacy lives on in both his words and in documentaries like this, leaving me wondering what his view would be on the events of today, notably the global financial crisis and the 2008 Obama/McCain run for the Whitehouse.
A good piece of media, be it film, article or otherwise should help you think for yourself and question the world around you. This doco does all that and more, and whether you agree with the man’s morals, ethics and journalistic style, Gonzo is likely to keep you entertained and intrigued to the very end.