Along for the ride
Documentary examines the ups and downs in the wild life of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson
"Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride," a documentary film about gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is much like a Thompson story: There's a lot of content, but it's not presented in any particular order, and you may have to dig for it beneath the entertaining observations -- of which there are plenty.
"Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride"
Screens at 7 p.m., Sunday at Dole Cannery as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival
Featuring extensive interviews with actors Bill Murray, who portrayed Thompson in "Where the Buffalos Roam," John Cusack, Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp, who played Raoul Duke in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," the documentary is a decidedly glamorous take on a life that contained tragic components. All of the actors provide insight into Thompson's persona, except perhaps Gary Busey, whose bizarre antics are worth the price of admission alone.
Few writers lived quite as large as Thompson, whose appetites were legendary: four Bloody Mary's, tequila, coffee and fresh fruit for breakfast -- which began in the afternoon -- experimenting liberally with drugs, playing with blow torches and keeping "the hours of a vampire bat," according to friends and family. But what set Thompson apart was not just his skill with words. It was the character he created and lived, which sometimes threatened to overtake his ability to cover a story at all.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia.org describes gonzo journalism as "a style of reporting which blurs distinctions between author and subject, fiction and nonfiction." Though he inserted himself into nearly every piece, writing about a topic still required a certain level of anonymity, which Thompson lost as his fame grew. He recalled attending a Jimmy Carter press conference, where he signed more autographs than Carter. "Now the minute I appear at the story, I become part of it," he lamented.
Ironically, at times Thompson seems more fully realized when played by Murray and Depp, who mastered the writer's fast-paced mumble while still allowing us to decipher their words. Thompson, on the other hand, is difficult to understand in several sections (and we know he wouldn't care).
But fans of his writing will delight in seeing him interviewed at various stages of his life. And students of cultural history will enjoy the insights of George McGovern, William F. Buckley and Tom Wolfe about how Thompson alone defined a literary genre.
Born in 1937 to a middle-class family, Thompson reached the apex of his career, by many accounts, between 1965 and 1975. "Straddling the worlds of journalism and literature, politics and rock and roll, sports and film, Thompson found himself at the intersection of some interesting times," according to the film. By turns, he is described by those who knew him best as a "deeply serious and deeply moral person," "a supreme Southern gentleman," "this century's greatest comic writer" and "a mad crazy poet" who often retyped his favorite Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels in an effort to truly understand good writing.
Last year, at the age of 67, Thompson shot himself at the Colorado home where he had long maintained his own version of the Parisian writers' salon. Most believe he wanted to end the health problems that ailed him. In true Thompson form, his ashes were fired from a cannon.
His 15 books, numerous articles, unique style and notorious recreational activities have solidified his place in history. And for one compelling hour, this documentary brings all of that back to life.
ARTWORK COURTESY JOHN WILBUR
Discussion to follow
Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, will participate in a discussion following Sunday's screening of "Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride."
Barahal hosted Thompson at the Honolulu Marathon in 2001, 2002 and 2003, though Thompson never even made it to the starting line, as he was most likely just getting to bed when the gun was fired at 5 a.m. One year he brought Sean Penn with him.
The actor rode in the men's pace vehicle, and talked about one day returning to film Thompson's "The Curse of Lono," a story about Thompson covering the Honolulu Marathon -- an event he called "an agressively lewd spectacle" -- for Running Magazine.
Veteran NFL player John Wilbur, who first met Thompson in 1972, will also take part in the discussion.