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Breakfast With Hunter
Review of BREAKFAST WITH HUNTER, the newest (and best) documentary about the legendary Hunter S. Thompson.
Wayne Ewing’s Breakfast With Hunter opens with the gonzo journalist and author of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson approaching The Viper Room (where he was making a sold out appearance) in a convertible with actor John Cusack and one of his notorious blow-up dolls. The first thing the Louisville native does upon emerging from the convertible is throw the blow-up doll in front of a vehicle trying desperately to yield. He laughs at his own little prank and walks away without ever making eye contact with the people he has just fucked with. “It’s my daughter,” he says to the young couple in the car. “She’s all fucked up.” And he’s smiling the whole time.
It is this juvenile propensity toward pranks and high-speed hi-jinx, I think, that makes the legendary iconoclastic journalist such a fun and exciting cultural figure. He is unlike anyone or anything we have ever encountered before and, yet, his love of practical jokes and strange tomfoolery speaks to us on a primal level, caressing one’s inner-child, trying to coax it out of us. Even the most obscure of his remarks or weirdest of his advances appeals to us. Because it’s as if he is saying, “Join me. Walk this way. I am Lono. And you are just another dumb beast. So why not frolic like one?”
Hunter is also a man with a strong sense for who is real and who is not. This is never more evident than in his treatment of the journalists who interview him. HST (as he signs many of his artifacts and books) can charm the scales off a silver-backed jackal with his facetious shenanigans, brazen, oft-explosive joie de vivre and colorful, self-deprecating humor regarding his tendency to drop an open liquor bottle due to reflexes and the perils of gravity. But if he senses for a second that you are a prude or a mole or some lousy dilettante with paparazzi eyes or you’re just not in on the joke, then he can take the reins firmly in hand and steer the interview with professorial skill. Taking care in choosing his responses, averting his gaze from the interviewer (see: London Observer scene) and remaining serious and straight-faced until the very last word. And if he smells the sour odor of trouble brewing, the Good Doctor has no qualms about letting you know where you stand.
Thompson’s January 1997 meeting on Owl Farm (his fortified compound in Aspen) with British director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Straight to Hell) and writing partner Tod Davies is testament to Hunter’s love of confrontation, not to mention his understandable fear of his art being besmirched by flatlanders and idiots. This key sequence settles, once and for all, the dispute that has been raging for years as to whether or not Cox and his wife/co-writer deserved screenwriting credit. Clearly, they did not.
Many have attempted to chronicle Hunter’s life and demystify the legend that he is. This has been attempted, usually egregiously, in the form of unauthorized biographies and bootleg video compilations. However, to lump Ewing’s verite film into that category would be a gross injustice and that is certainly one thing I never want to be guilty of. Wayne Ewing blows all other biographical accounts of Thompson’s life (including the British documentary that appeared on the Criterion Collection Fear & Loathing DVD) out of the green water, impressing on so many levels, it’s hard to put them all down in a succinct article.
In Breakfast with Hunter, we are introduced to a warm and human side of Thompson that his fans and detractors have rarely seen. We are also granted access to several of his more officious endeavors (i.e.: convincing Johnny Depp to hold off on other projects until the Fear & Loathing filmmakers can find a replacement director, editing his sundry manuscripts and much, much more).
Ewing manages to grab shots like The Invisible Man might grab handfuls of taut female flesh: quickly, clandestinely and magically. And what’s more, even with all the amazingly candid events that transpire right before our eyes, never once does the film become something exploitative or voyeuristic.
As a longtime neighbor of Hunter, Ewing’s love for the man of letters seeps through every frame of the film, but never in such a way as to seem biased or saccharine. This is an extraordinary cinematic trip from an extraordinary documentarian (see also: Air America). Also, the supplemental material (or Special Features) on the Breakfast with Hunter DVD are also worth mentioning. So I will. Here, we are invited to witness the editing of Thompson’s long lost novel (The Rum Diary) and to hear the truth about Thompson’s “missing” friend Oscar Acosta, the Chicano lawyer that Dr. Gonzo (in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) was based on.
What? That doesn’t tickle your short and curlies? Well, then, how about a reading from the author’s bestiality love story (“Screwjack”) by the pioneer of the t-shirt and white suit jacket look. That’s right, Miami Vice star Don Johnson is in the house and he’s hear to tell you all about those blissful little slants Screwjack calls eyes.
So pack your overnight bag, people. It’s time to catch the next flight to Woody Creek, Aspen. Buy the DVD, Take the Ride.
©Bob Freville - Get Underground