Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, Indeed
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride: The Life And Times Of Doctor Hunter Thompson, Hunter Thompson and various commentators, 2007
Since Doctor Hunter S. Thompson’s death by suicide and the extravaganza of the funereal flight of his ashes at Woody Creek in 2005 there has been a veritable avalanche of documentaries, books and other forms of tribute by his friends, like Ralph Steadman and Johnny Depp, his associates, like Jann Wanner and David Brinkley, and others. Whatever other intention each tribute may have they all have in common a desire to influence that crucial “first draft of history” in order to assure Thompson’s place in the pantheon of 20th century American letters. There is no question that Thompson belongs there and furthermore no question that his work will be read even by future digitally-centered 'cyberspace' generations (who will, I am sure, get a kick out of that old mojo wire of his as we did in our time on discovering something like an old antique crank-up telephone). What is at question is the extent that each tribute, including this 2007 documentary, adds or detracts from that commemoration.
As I have mentioned elsewhere in this space on the subject of albums of musical tributes to legendary folk, rock and blues stars not all such efforts are create equally. Nor, in the case of Thompson, do such tributes all cover the same ground (although on such a narrow subject as the hey day of Hunter Thompson’s best work there is bound to be, and is, overlap). In the very recent past I have reviewed another Thompson documentary tribute- “Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson”- that concentrated on his rising career as a hip 1960’s journalist and political commentator. The center of that piece was Thompson’s journalistic efforts in the period from the mid-1960’s, including the personally decisive 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, to the rise of Jimmy Carter’s presidential candidacy in the mid-1970’s.
The current film tends to concentrate more on Thompson’s emergence as an icon at a later period and on the effect that two films about him- “Where The Buffalo Roam” and “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” contributed to that status. Moreover, unlike “Gonzo” that was filled with commentary by more political types, like former presidential candidates George McGovern and Gary Hart, or on the evolution of his journalism by the likes of his "Rolling Stone” boss Jann Wanner and the writer Tom Wolfe (of “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” fame) this work features more Hollywood film-types like Thompson friends Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and John Cusack. I, thus, give the edge to “Gonzo” as the more important and informative film because, in the final analysis Thompson’s legacy for future generations will be those many, many printed words that keep us going on many a hard night out on the edge.
Finally, I would make this comment that I have made in “Gonzo” and in reviews of some of Hunter’s books.
“Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self defense, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This is particularly true when it comes from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Nevertheless, although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution and would reject such a designation we could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.”
Hunter, I hope that you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Damn, the 2008 campaign, despite the hoopla, was boring without your knife even if at the end it was not as sharp as in the old days. Watch this DVD. And then “buy the ticket, take the ride” and read his books.