Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

A dark and bloody ground: Hunter S. Thompson

Jerry Stratton, December 10, 2006

Hunter Thompson

Presumably because I’ve written reviews of Hunter S. Thompson’s books, Electric Artists sent me a spam about their upcoming documentary and the offer of a review copy. Since I don’t get cable, that’s the kind of spam I like to see!

Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride is a one hour and seventeen minute documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, more specifically how his friends saw him.

Merely reading Thompson, Johnny Depp said, changed his life. There is something to that. I was given a copy of The Great Shark Hunt when I graduated from high school. Already writing as much as I could, this was a vision of something new; a kind of satire that rivaled Orwell. Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, gives us a glimpse of Thompson’s inspiring effect on the people who read him and who knew him.

One of the things that Thompson recognized is that the journalist is always part of the story. “Where fact ends and imagination takes over, we never know.” Hunter recognized the Heisenberg principle in journalism: “He provoked a situation in order to get a reaction.” That in itself wasn’t different from what other journalists do. It isn’t just the act of observing, but the manner; Thompson acknowledged this. He didn’t pretend objectivity. When, today, you see journalists waiting for terrorists to create the aftermath that looks best on camera, you’re looking at the worst of journalism because it is a pretense of objectivity that everyone except for the readers knows is false.

Johnny Depp on Hunter Thompson

Reading Thompson changed his life.

Thompson’s admonition that titles the documentary, “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” is both advice and a warning.

It is narrated by Nick Nolte, though he rarely intrudes into the interviews. The interviews include a range of actors and authors: John Cusack, Tom Wolfe, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Nick Tosches, and many others, as well as a strange introduction with Gary Busey that eventually leads to an anecdote about the highway patrolman scene in Fear & Loathing.

It starts describing how, to learn from the best, he typed out works by Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. The documentary is mostly interviews with people who knew him, including some childhood friends. It jumps about some, but is basically divided into four parts: the sixties and seventies, with his Kentucky Derby piece, Nixon, and McGovern; the late seventies and eighties, where Thompson himself becomes a property and is marketed as such, for example in Where the Buffalo Roam; and then the nineties, a look back at the excess at the heart of the American Dream.

Hunter Thompson cannon plans

Ralph Steadman helps design the cannon for Thompson’s funeral.

The discussion about Bill Murray and Where the Buffalo Roam makes me want to see that movie again. From the clips, Murray clearly did a great job as Thompson, despite the shortcomings of the movie.

His wife, Anita Thompson, describes a typical breakfast that plays well to the public image that Thompson cultivated: fresh fruit and alcohol.

It includes a few scenes from Wayne Ewing’s Breakfast with Hunter documentary; if you own the Criterion DVD of Fear & Loathing, you’ve already seen a piece from that documentary.

The documentary ends with footage of Thompson, Depp, and others talking about his funeral, and shooting his ashes out of the cannon.

The copy I watched had some minor editing problems (the caption for Nick Tosches only shows up on his second appearance, for example), but that may have been an early edit. It was well worth watching; I recommend catching it if you have cable. It is currently set to air on Tuesday, December 12, at 10 PM Eastern; there is likely to be a DVD available sometime after that.

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