Friday, May 7, 2010

Fear and Loathing at the cinema

Watching Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney 2008) brings back memories of a very bizarre movie experience. The film - one of three about the same character, and I have seen them all – are about the good doctor, the father of Gonzo journalism and writer extroardinaire (now deceased; rest in peace) for Rolling Stone magazine, Dr. Hunter S. Thomspon. The other films are Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam 1998) and Where the Buffalo Roam (Art Linson 1980). But first a little about this movie. Gibney directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Here, he has Johnny Depp narrate (Depp also starred as Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing) with a lot of previously unseen footage particularly of Thompson’s beginnings in the world of what we used to call the New Journalism or let’s just say highly-subjective impressionistic reporting with the facts sometimes taking a back seat but the story considered accurate because the writer’s overall vision rings true. (Phew!)..... Thompson was an illustrious or notorious (take your pick but both fit) journalist who broke zillions of boundaries of the then comparatively staid world of professional journalism, fuelled by his egomania and drugs. This was journalism on acid because, well, the writer himself was on acid or barbituates or cocaine or what have you. For those, like me, who grew up at the time, Thompson indeed was a trip. I devoured his extended pieces in Rolling Stone, loved his 1971 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 about covering the 1972 Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign.....Thompson of course has been immortalized in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip.....Gibney’s movie has excellent footage of Dr. Gonzo at home, on the road, whether covering the Hells Angels or Richard Nixon (ah, the memory of Democratic contender Ed Muskie in tears outside the Manchester New Hampshire Union Leader building)......Thompson shot himself to death in 2005.....The film also features scenes from the other two Thompson movies with Bill Murray starring as Thompson and of course Depp as Duke.....Okay, enough.....This post is about a personal film experience......Let me describe what happened one evening 12 years ago when a friend and I drove to Windsor’s Silver City to see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.....My friend (now ex-friend but not because of what you are about to read) and I took our seats. The movie came to life. And for all of its 119 minutes I had a pretty good time, laughing at the funny, outrageous, crazed and alcohol and drug-induced experiences of the aforementioned Raoul Duke.....The theatre’s lights came back on. My friend – I’ll just call him “J” for the first letter of his first name - and I sauntered out to his great big lumbering Ford SUV (SUVs were all the rage among high income-earning Yuppies in those days, the bigger the better).....As we drove along Howard Ave. towards the central part of Windsor I casually asked J how he enjoyed the movie. Little did I know that I was unlocking a torrent of unending verbal scorn against what we had just seen. My friend went on and on – I could barely interrupt – with his disgust emanating seemingly from the deep recesses of his psyche. He was a man in a trance, spewing gobs and gobs vitriol. He was like a tap that couldn’t be turned off.....In brief, he was greatly offended by the film, interpreting it as making light of the very serious problem of drug abuse. He came across as a member of the so-called Moral Majority. To which I replied, “Don’t take it so seriously” and “it’s all kind of a joke” and “well, it’s about the Sixties, maybe you had to be there”.....As we got closer to downtown I suggested we go for beers......And then I was really brought up. “Absolutely not,” J said. “I’m too upset”.....So I guess you could say I had my own little fear and loathing on the way back from an otherwise innocent night at the movies.

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