Uppers, downers, pills, tequila, acid, mescaline, weed, cocaine and rum. This was the life blood that fuelled the dark and twisted writing of outlaw American hero Hunter S. Thompson and shaped the novels he would write and the style of journalism that he created with satirist and screenwriter Terry Southern: Gonzo. It was a revolutionary movement born out of the roots of New Journalism which was heralded by the likes of Truman Capote. Gonzo put two resounding fingers up at traditional concepts of both creative writing and journalism and went even further then its predecessor in blurring the boundaries between the two. Hunter saw these two models for what they really are: bullshit words. He just wrote what he wanted in a sprawling mad cap vision and didn’t give a flying fuck what the industry defined them as. As a society we are obsessed with putting everything into neat little boxes, no surprises and everything has easily identifiable labels. Fuck that.
Born in the chicken fried state of Kentucky to a librarian mother and a father who died when he was a small child Thompson enlisted in the US military after a brief stint in prison for accessory to a robbery. It was in the army that Thompson got his first experience of writing as a sports editor covering a base football team. After being discharged he fled to the East coast and New York and took a dirt paying job at Time magazine as a copy boy. The rest they say is history. Tie a pretty pink bow on it and move the fuck on.
I love film and literature and when the two are brought together then heaven help me it’s good. How is it that you adapt a novel or short story by an author who writes in such spontaneous and drug fuelled prose? Well the easy ticket baby is you find visually committed directors that can interpret these freaky words in mesmerising images. Though the film is far from perfect, fantasy filmmaker Terry Gilliam did just that in his adaptation of Thompson’s masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A sequence of shit crazy lizards coming out of people’s heads and bar floors turning into swampy mud after the Duke (Johnny Depp) attempts to check into a hotel whilst tripping out on acid is a surrealist triumph. It certainly makes sense that the man who gifted the world with Brazil and Time Bandits could dream up some bat shit craziness.
Everyone knows Hunter S. Thompson as a drug riddled, surrealist poet but he was also a gifted political satirist as he demonstrated shrewdly in his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72′. In it he is our eyes into the murky waters of the Democrat primaries in the states. He was a chronicler of the dark side of the American dream to the very end. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Duke and Mr. Gonzo (Benecio Del Toro) head to the circus the fact that they inhale their ether on a napkin with the American flag on it is such a delightful little nod to Thompson’s distaste for the things he felt were corrupting America. Most notably Richard Nixon. My lord did Hunter S. Thompson not like Tricky Dicky.
The Johnny Depp/Hunter S. Thompson friendship has quietly been gaining momentum for many years. Their relationship started the way it ended: with a crap load of gunpowder and explosives. It was a mutual love of the writers Hemingway and Nathanial West that brought them together in the beginning. I don’t think any actor should play a real life person in more than one film but Depp has blasted this theory of mine through the fucking roof. In 1998 it was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, then a decade later it was narrating the documentary Gonzo: The life and work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and now it’s playing a younger version of the author in an adaptation of The Rum Diary a work that went unpublished for 30 years, until guess who discovered the manuscript in Thompson’s attic or basement (I’m not quite sure which). Directed by Bruce ‘Withnail & I’ Robinson the film is set in Puerto Rico as journalist Paul Kemp arrives to take a job at The San Juan Star. It’s a giant pill of booze, hangovers & blonde bombshells. A fitting tribute to the late great man who took his own life in 2005 by means of a gun wound to the head. Thompson was a member of NRA and proud owner of a vast collection of varying firearms including semi automatics and rifles. A shocker to the end. Optimism is a hard trick to maintain when you’ve spent the majority of your life whacked out on a mixed bag of druggy goodness.