Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson -

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Gonzo” is the definitive film biography of a mythic American figure, a man that Tom Wolfe called our “greatest comic writer,” whose suicide, by gunshot, led Rolling Stone Magazine, where Thompson began his career, to devote an entire issue (its best-selling ever) to the man that launched a thousand sips of bourbon, endless snorts of cocaine and a brash, irreverent, fearless style of journalism - named “gonzo” after an anarchic blues riff by James Booker.

Borrowing from Kris Kristofferson, Thompson was a “walking contradiction, partly truth, mostly fiction.”  A die-hard member of the NRA, he was also a coke-snorting, whiskey-swilling, acid-eating fiend.  While his pen dripped with venom for crooked politicians, he surprised nervous visitors with the courtly manners and soft-spoken delivery of a Southern gentleman.  Careening out of control in his personal life, Thompson also maintained a steel-eyed conviction about righting wrongs.  Today, in a time, when “spin” has replaced the search for deeper meaning, Thompson remains an iconic crusader for truth, justice and a fiercely idealistic American way.  Like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (and the movie made from it) remains a wanderlust myth for generation after generation of American youth. And for America’s most esteemed journalists – from Tom Wolfe, and Walter Isaacson (former editor of Time) to the NY Times’ Frank Rich – he remains an iconic freelance, never afraid to gore every sacred cow in his path.  He believed that writing could make a difference.  It could change things.

GONZO is directed by Alex Gibney, the Academy Award nominated director of Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room and the director of the Academy Award winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side.  While Gibney shaped the screen story, every narrated word in the film springs from the typewriters of Thompson himself.  Those words are given life by Johnny Depp, the actor who once shadowed Thompson’s every move for the screen version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and who bankrolled Thompson’s spectacular funeral (photographed for this film) in which the good doctor’s ashes were fired from a rocket launcher mounted with a towering two-thumbed fist whose palm held a giant peyote button. 

This two-year effort was produced by an extraordinary team, including Gibney; Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair; the indie producing team of Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente; Eva Orner and Alison Ellwood.  Ellwood, an extraordinarily creative editor, was also Gibney’s collaborator on Enron.  The film’s Director of Photography was Maryse Alberti. 

The film is distinguished by its unprecedented cooperation of Thompson’s friends, family and estate.  The filmmakers had access to hundreds of photographs and over 200 hours of audiotapes, home movies and documentary footage of the man.  In addition, the estate granted unusual access to the work itself, allowing the film to quote from unpublished manuscripts, as well as the many letters, books and articles that Thompson produced.  Ralph Steadman – the visionary artist whose ink-splattered drawings and paintings created a subversively iconic visual landscape for Thompson’s words – also granted the filmmakers access to previously unpublished artworks and Polaroid’s.

The signature of the film, however, is its focus on Thompson’s work, particularly his most provocative and productive period from 1965 to 1975.   His wicked words resonate today, at a time when politicians have become manufactured celebrities, shrouding themselves in Teflon, issuing banalities whose only value is that they rarely offend.  Too often, contemporary journalists play the politicians’ game, taking them seriously with a balance they don’t deserve.  Thompson never stood for that.  He understood, better than any other, that when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Movie information

Release Date (USA):
Rating (USA): R
Release Date (UK): 2008-12-19
Rating (UK) : R18
Director: Alex Gibney
Producer: Graydon Carter ; Alison Ellwood
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Writer/s: Alex Gibney (screenplay); Hunter S. Thompson (writings)


Hunter S. Thompson Himself (archive footage)
Douglas Brinkley Himself
Pat Buchanan Himself
Jimmy Buffett Himself (also archive footage)


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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [Blu-ray] (DVD)


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