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Less Substance Than I Expected
on December 4, 2008
I've been intrigued by HST ever since I was a kid growing up in Evergreen, Colorado in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Word of the "Freak Ticket" and its mighty and outrageous leader made its way over the mountains from Aspen and astonished all of us. His audacity echoed in those mountains (and still does to this day). I also recall perusing those famous issues of Rolling Stone at the Walgreen's magazine counter where HST told-tale of all his intrepid investigations, and where sinister evil seemed to lurk around every dark corner. And my appreciation for his unique approach to things has grown as I've matured. I see him as a patriot, and as a courageous one at that. It takes courage to tell the truth about things--or something close to the truth, but conveyed in a very interesting way--especially when there are lots of powerful forces out there praying for your demise, and maybe even plotting it.
I haven't read everything HST wrote, but I've read most of it, and I've read a biography or two as well. I was delighted when I heard about this documentary, and I rented it off of Netflix the moment it was listed. And, yes, I'll probably end up buying it for my library of 1960's retrospectives. I'm absolutely fascinated by everything that happened in the US--and the world as well--between 1965 and 1975. It was an amazingly vital and dynamic period of our history, and will probably never again be matched during my life or the life of my children. HST was a major player in several of those realms from that period.
But, on the whole, this documentary seemed a little flat to me. I was vaguely confused from time to time. It seemed lacking in continuity. For example, they discuss the Ali/Frazer fight in Africa in the early 1970's--which HST buoycotted because he thought Ali was going to be destroyed; so, instead of going to the fight, HST took a swim--and then the next phase shows HST in the late 1990's or early 2000's--swollen, belligerent, dysfunctional, bizarre. They omitted almost everything relating to the three decade time-frame in between. Those decades were his decades of decline; I would have liked to know the particulars of why and how.
I was frequently distracted by trying to figure out where and when a given episode occured. The presentation was definitely not a chronological presentation, and so the viewer has to establish their own time line of events. It was repeatedly difficult to place the descriptions of disparate developments into any type of exacting, fluid context. The film needed a voice-over narrator to provide segue continuity and to make for a comprehensive, smooth examination of the man and his event-rich life. Instead, we get this varied, slightly jagged, series of interviews where sometimes extremely significant events are mentioned, almost in passing. I found myself developing more questions as the film went along rather than getting answers. I looked HST up on Wikipedia this morning, and there were dozens of interesting features to this man's career which were not even alluded to in this documentary--major gaps relating to essential aspects of his life story. (Example: his falling out with Jann Wenner and aborted assignments to Vietnam and elsewhere.)
True, I'm grateful to have seen the great footage, much of which I had never seen before. And the interviews with Jann Wenner,Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, HST's wives, and McGovern and some of the others did provide some salient insights. But my curiosity continued to grow rather than to be sated. I would have liked to hear recollections from Johnny Depp, and Bill Murray, two friends who I'm sure could have offered a lot, and I would have liked to have heard more from HST's son, who seems like an articulate and amazingly normal man.
HST was a blemished figure, and probably he is more myth than reality when all is said and done. I recall seeing him on a late night talk show (Leno, I think) in the early 2000's. HST was thoroughly drunk and slurred every word. He was a bloated mess, and, essentially, he was already dead. But, for that magical decade or so, few people burned brighter and more intensely than Hunter S. Thompson. His unique combination of anger and humor is something which will be hard to match, and he is definitely one of the colorful characters from the century which we have just left behind.