Wednesday, November 26, 2008

DVD REVIEW: Gonzo: The Life and Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson...

After a year at college, I think I have finally found something, or at least a subject that I would like to spend the rest of my life turning into a job, and journalism is that subject. So, there are many people I can take as inspiration, and one of those men, at least in the strength of conviction in his respective writing is one Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. A bloody mad man for sure, but he also is one of the most influential if not controversial writers of our time, and is a person that I know, or at least knew, little about. That is where Alex Gibney's newest documentary, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson comes into play.

Gonzo is the newest film from Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney, whose last film, Taxi To The Dark Side, won him that very award. Before that film, he was best known for his other nominated film, Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room, a film that I very much enjoyed during a viewing of it in my Social Problems class. Gonzo looks into Dr. Thompson's heyday, 1965 to 1975, as well as including clips of never-before-seen (nor heard) home movies, audiotapes, and passages from unpublished manuscripts. It looks at his life, but primarily his works and how they were shaped, and how they shaped the man that would come out of it, only to end his life in 2005.

First off, the one way to judge a documentary, a genre of film never before reviewed here at I Are Movies, is this. If the film is to succeed, it is to be interesting, and this film hits that stipulation out of the proverbial ballpark. I have not studied up of the works of Hunter S. Thompson, but I have read a couple of books written by and about the man, and he is one of the most interesting writers to have lived, and this film does a great, if semi flawed, job at portraying that.

The film is narrated, sort of, by Johnny Depp, who is mainly the voice of Hunter S. Thompson's writings, and he sounds EXACTLY like the man. There is one scene in particular that really had me laughing and just having a good time, in which he is reading a section of either Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Hells Angels, in which he is reading the section whilst in a bar, holding a six shooter in the air. This is exactly the type of man Thompson was, and the home video footage of him running for sheriff of Aspen and all that he went through mentally while on the McGovern campaign is some of the most interesting footage I've seen all year.

The film is very similar to the other documentary I watched this year, Religulous, in that it's not a really serious, Errol Morris-esque documentary. It's just a very fun film to watch, and about a really interesting subject. However, unlike Religulous, this film has quite a few flaws.

The biggest sin of this film is it lets him off of the hook. Hunter S. Thompson's life dissolves into him basically being the embodiment of a Doonsbury comic character (which a character in that long standing comic was named after and alter ego Thompson had during his "Las Vegas" period, having multiple affairs, a divorce, and ultimately taking his own life when people, liberals mostly, needed him most. There is a brief quote by his first wife discussing that very point, but instead of sort of manning up to the idea that he went out at a time when he "could have welled a mighty powerful sword" really just bothered me. It could have been a really interesting take on his life, to show how this man stood up for the left wing when they needed it, to only take his life at the most important time, yet they decided to let him off. Also, for such a visually minded writer, the film was really straightforward with it's film-making and presentation, something that can also be seen in Enron: Smartest Guys In The Room. Finally, the complete third act just really sort of fell apart for me, and while I did like the narration, there were far to many clips from Fear and Loathing, and even a clip from Where The Buffalo's Roam, when it could have been so much stronger to show us more of what Hunter S. Thompson was doing and going through during this time.

GONZO: The Life and Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson - 8/10

Insanely interesting, fun, yet the film can't sustain a full slate, and falls apart during the third act. Yet, for people like me, who are not to familiar with the man behind the writings, this is a must see, and I think it's a solid film. Completely rent worthy. It's worth it just to hear Johnny Depp read Hunter S. Thompson's writings. It's just a fun film.

Come back later for more news and notes, along with a review of the Foot Fist Way...

Go see something good!

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