International Writers Magazine: Hunter S Thompson on
TV Dec 12
the Ticket, Take the Ride'
Praise Of A New Hunter S. Thompson Documentary
In the labyrinth that became American culture in the sixties and
seventies, Hunter S. Thompson just might have been at the center,
and in a way, that center still holds.
- Opening narrative from "Buy
The Ticket, Take The Ride"
ago, roughly four months after his subject's suicide, filmmaker Tom
Thurman set out to gather together an eclectic group of artists, writers,
actors, and historians, and threw them together with colleagues, friends
and family of fellow Kentuckian, Hunter S. Thompson to compile their
memories, anecdotes, and critiques on film. The result is the poignant,
passionate, often compelling, and thoroughly entertaining "Buy
The Ticket, Take The Ride", premiering on the STARZ
movie channel December 12.
Doctor Thompson, as discussed more than a little
in this space over the years, is one of the celebrated godfathers of
our aim and purpose here at the Reality Check News & Information
Desk, and as such any new material on the late master is wired in. So
a few months back I was sent a pre-screened version of the film and
upon review was sincerely blown away. For my money, having spoken with
Thompson on several occasions and having been a fan for decades, Thurman
captured the true essence of the man, the soul of his persona and his
work, which more times than not crashed into each other in creative
and destructive ways.
Fact is "Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride"
is the first significant film biography of one of the 20th century's
finest satirists since his death. Aside from three uneven print biographies,
and our pal Wayne Ewing's cinéma vérité masterpiece,
"Breakfast With Hunter", it is the only complete overview
of Thompson's life and legacy to date. In addition, using the STARZ
"movie channel" theme, the dcoumentary also doubles as a study
in Thompson's impact on Hollywood and popular culture through a study
of the two film adaptations of his work, "Where The Buffalo
Roam" and "Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas".
"As sad as it might be, there are a lot of people
who have come to Hunter S.Thompson through the film adaptations, and
they know more about Bill Murray and Johnny Depp than know about his
writing," Thurman told me in our recent conversation about the
film's premier. "So the real aim was to be able to discuss these
issues and these themes and ultimately try and send many of these viewers
back to what's most important, his writings."
Here's where Thurman does his best tightrope act; mixing
Thompson's art with the art created from and about him. Distinct film
clips work as exclamations and parenthetical asides to the wealth of
background offered by illuminating interviews, file footage, and rare
photographs. The aforementioned Murray and Depp, who both portrayed
some form of the author on film, make intriguing observations about
their channeling of the Thompson idiosyncrasies and mannerisms to best
exorcize the personality from the icon and the words from the craftsman.
Their subsequent performances, while both unique, furiously exhibit
the fruits of their labor, as does the clips Thurman uses to illustrate
"We wanted to create a sophisticated, evocative interplay
between the film clips and the interview participants," the director
points out. "To have one feed into the other for there to be an
energy between the people on camera and the film clips that I can use
to illustrate people's attempts to bring Hunter's work to film, to carefully
study the films themselves, so then I can maybe educate people and hopefully
entertain them and let them have a little fun at the same time."
The "little fun" starts with unscripted lunacy
from eccentric actor Gary Busey, who opens the film trying to direct
Thurman and his crew in a self-styled "scenario" which tumbles
uncontrollably from pathetically silly to downright goofy. Then there
is the whiskey-gnarled narration ably delivered by actor Nick Nolte,
who is joined by an oddly harmonious stew of celebrity voices including
Sean Penn, Tom Wolfe, George McGovern, Ralph Steadman, Douglas Brinkley,
the late Ed Bradley, and even William F. Buckley Jr., among others.
There is a real sense throughout the film that the fusion
of divergent personalities and their swirling examinations is the key
to understanding Thompson's enigmatic ride. But as diverse as the principles
are, there is a central premise that runs throughout: Thompson confuses,
attracts, reviles, and intrigues, but he is never without title.
Thurman sees Thompson as a kind of sun around which other
planets revolve. "People felt the heat from Hunter," he told
me. "They knew there was something unique going on there, and they
wanted to get a piece of it, to be influenced by it."
In many cases, as Thurman points out, some of these planets
collided in a very salient way.
"I wanted use a passage about Muhammad Ali as an
example of Hunter's long-standing attraction to an interest in sports,
and Ali, like Thompson, was born and raised in Louisville, and came
to prominence almost at the same exact time. I also wanted to use it
because it seemed to me that Hunter was talking about himself when talking
about Ali. So we've got Thompson, the original creator of the passage,
who's from Louisville, writing about Muhammad Ali, who was also from
Louisville, and was such a key cultural figure at the time, being read
by Johnny Depp, who is also from Kentucky, and is one of the leading
entertainment-industry figures in the entire world. So there seemed
to be an interesting confluence of Kentucky connections right there."
"Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride" covers
all the key characters in the Hunter Thompson saga, including childhood
friends and his widow, Anita, and all of the author's major achievements
are also discussed. Thurman has done his research, and like every worthy
documentarian, he knows where to sniff out the grit. The irony of many
of his film's bad-boy Hollywood line-up is not lost on Thurman either.
"Many of the people I selected to participate in this, very few
of them are poster children for the wellness center," he jibes.
Thurman, a veteran of 10 original independent documentaries,
among them films on Western icons Ben Johnson and Warren Oates, and
rough-and-tumble directors Sam Peckinpah and John Ford, understands
well the burden of living up to the tall-tale American icon, and how
it can shadow and hound its creator. The inventor, purveyor, and keeper
of the Gonzo flame was the latest, Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, a Baby
Boomer hobgoblin outlaw, two-fisted drinking, drug-addled, gun-toting
mad poet walking the dangerous line between the ghost of Hemingway and
the shoulders of Paul Bunyan.
"Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride" is a
brilliant film about a brilliant writer and an excellent primer into
the life and times and art of Hunter S. Thompson. It is required viewing,
but I think Mr. Thurman would like to join me in imploring the faithful
to read the damn books.
© James Campion December 1 2006
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