Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Gonzo" (Rhoades)

‘Gonzo’ Puts Hunter Thompson
In the Middle of the Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hunter Thompson – the famous gonzo journalist – was a frequent visitor to Key West, where he liked to hang out with his pal Jimmy Buffet.

In fact, you’ll see Jimmy commenting on his friendship with the late writer in “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” the fascinating new documentary that opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

Thompson’s story begins long before Key West, dwelling on those days when he was hanging out with the Hell’s Angels for a book about the notorious motorcycle gang. Running for sheriff in Aspen. And supporting McGovern for president.

Here you’ll witness Jann Wenner, founding publisher of Rolling Stone, shedding a tear for his late friend and contributor. You’ll even get a glimpse of Thompson’s wild-man antics, as he merrily chases Wenner around the magazine office.

Other interviews include Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, and Johnny Depp.

Also, you’ll hear from writer Tom Wolfe, who shares memories about the man credited with inventing gonzo journalism, a style of involving yourself in the story that Wolfe himself practiced.

Thompson’s literary high point was the publication of his book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” a phrase that became his trademark – whether writing about social issues or his one-sided view of politics. (His other trademarks were a gold-tipped cigarette holder and those RAF-style sunglasses.)

Both his first wife Sandy and second wife Anita are here, speaking well of the man who made their lives a crazy, sometime-dangerous adventure.

You’ll learn about Thompson’s fascination with guns and preoccupation with death, a precursor to his eventual suicide. (Ironic that he’d once traveled to Ketchum, Idaho, to search out the reasons behind Hemingway’s suicide for a proposed article.)

All that said, I’ve got a bone to pick with Dr. Thompson’s ghost. While the term Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe his participatory style of journalism, I was already writing articles where I was part of the story back in the mid-60s. As a feature writer with the Florida Times-Union, I did hundreds of stories from a personal viewpoint. My clippings include such pieces as “I Was the World’s Worst Waiter,” where I passed myself off as a inept employee of a local restaurant, or “I Passed as a High School Student,” where I infiltrated Terry Parker High. For these first-person articles I went flying with the world’s oldest glider pilot, chased submarines with Navy flyboys, attended therapy sessions inside Raiford State Prison.

But don’t credit me, it was my kindly ol’ editor who gave me these assignments.
And come to think of it, even before my time Gloria Steinem was posing as a Playboy bunny to get an inside scoop.

None of this is to take anything away from Hunter Thompson. He was a masterful self-promoter. And a heck of a deliberately-non-objective journalist. Back when I was associate publisher at Harper’s Magazine, with Tom Wolfe as one of my contributing editors, I could hear the wary admiration in Tom’s voice whenever he mentioned his old colleague.

Yes, you’ll like this documentary by Alex Gibney, a 118-minute profile of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson that – once again – puts him smack in the middle of the story.

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