Hunter Goes to Hollywood: Hunter S. Thompson Triple Bill

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Who’s Hunter? Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937 – 2005) was an American journalist and inventor of Gonzo Journalism, a form of New Journalism. His persona and works inspired three Hollywood movies and several documentaries.

1. Where the Buffalo Roam (1980, USA)

Director: Art Linson
Written by: Hunter S. Thompson (stories), John Kaye (screenplay)
Cast: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby, R.G. Armstrong

Running Time: 95 mins.

‘I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but in my case it’s worked.’

Where the Buffalo Roam is the first movie adaptation of the work of legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who is portrayed by Bill Murray in the movie. The story deals with Thompson’s encounters with his equally legendary ‘mutant’ attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, who is called Carl Lazlo here and is portrayed by Peter Boyle. The movie is based on Thompson’s obituary for his attorney who disappeared in Mexico in 1974, three years after their two trips to Las Vegas that were immortalized in Thompson’s masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Screenplay writer John Kaye also drew from other works of Thompson, including Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail 72’ and The Great Shark Hunt. The final result depicts three journalistic adventures of Thompson in which Lazlo shows up. The first one involves San Francisco drug trials in which Lazlo represents wrongfully indicted youngsters. The second story shows Thompson missing the Super Bowl to accompany Lazlo on a failed activist mission. Finally, Thompson is seen on the presidential campaign where he has a one-on-one encounter with his arch enemy Richard Nixon.

Most of the people involved, including Thompson himself, didn’t like the final result or even hated the movie. It is easy to see why. Much of Thompson’s razor sharp journalism resorts into a bunch of silliness. Especially the second half is very uneven. Still, it is a lot of fun hearing a number of great Thompson quotes being uttered by Bill Murray, who’s excellent in the role of Gonzo journalist. Boyle is also enjoyable as his dope crazed attorney.

As a whole, the movie is indeed too silly to be perceived a success or an effective movie translation of Thompson’s writing. However, separate parts range from funny to almost great. Especially the sequences in which Thompson has to meet deadlines, but is too preoccupied with weirdness and dope frenzies. Also includes an excellent soundtrack featuring: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Gonzo Rating:

2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, USA)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Hunter S. Thompson (book), Terry Gilliam (screenplay), Tony Grisoni (screenplay), Tod Davies (screenplay), Alex Cox (screenplay)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, lot’s of cameo’s including; Tobey Maguire, Gary Busey, Ellen Barkin, Christina Ricci, Cameron Diaz, Flea and Harry Dean Stanton

Running Time: 118 mins.

It is the foul year of our lord 1971 and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Raoul Duke in the story) and his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo decide to undertake the ultimate trip of the seventies. The official assignment is to cover the Mint 400 desert race in Las Vegas, but they have something bigger in mind. They want to find the American dream. Armed to the teeth with highly dangerous narcotics, they head out to Las Vegas in their fire red convertible… Some trip it’s gonna be.

While searching for the American dream, Thompson and Dr. Gonzo only find fear and loathing. Intolerable vibrations in a town not at all suitable for the use of psychedelic drugs. The atmosphere is extremely menacing, but as they behave as animals, nobody even notices them. Vegas turns out to be a truly savage town. And while soldiers are dying in Vietnam, used car dealers from Dallas throw their money in the slot machines, Debbie Reynolds sings in the Desert Inn and the national police force meets on a congress about marijuana. Thompson and Dr. Gonzo are there…

Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that was first published in two parts in Rolling Stone Magazine, became a cultural phenomenon (and my personal favorite book of all time). The movie adaptation by Terry Gilliam is a literal one. Thompson wrote his famous novel Gonzo style, which means the events are told through the eyes and vision of the author who fully participates in the story himself. Since Thompson was heavily under the influence during the writing process, he claims he can’t fully remember which parts truly happened and which ones did not (fully). Therefore this literal adaptation is a highly enjoyable blast, though not always realistic.

There is one downside to director Gilliam’s literal approach. In the novel, all the psychedelic escapades form an integral part of what is obviously a literary masterpiece. In the translation to film however, these escapades sometimes appear to be useless fuckarounds, especially during the final part of the film. However, that is a minor criticism for this is obviously a highly enjoyable movie. Depp and Del Toro are both terrific in their method acting approaches to their roles. Thompson’s poetic writing, beautifully spoken by Depp in voiceover, runs through the movie that captures the era and paranoid nightmare perfectly. Combined with a beautiful seventies soundtrack and Grade A settings, the great time capsule that is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is complete. Also, it is one of the funniest movies of all time. So buy the ticket and take the ride.

Gonzo Rating:

3. The Rum Diary (2011, USA)

Director: Bruce Robinson
Written by: Bruce Robinson (screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson (novel)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart

Running Time: 115 mins.

The title The Rum Diary can mean two things. Hunter S Thompson’s novel that is told in this movie or The San Juan Star, the near bankrupt Puerto Rican newspaper where main character Paul Kemp (Thompson’s alter ego) takes a job as journalist. Why? Because the entire writing staff is completely drunk. The same seems to apply for the whole population of Puerto Rico in the 1960’s, the setting of The Rum Diary.

This is a story about alcohol and lots of it. But, whenever Kemp takes time off of drinking, he engages in a compelling journalistic endeavour, shining light on the culture and problems of the relatively unknown country he resides in. This is also a love story. Kemp falls head over heels for the stunning Chenault, girlfriend of corrupt businessman Sanderson, who wants Kemp to write stories in favour of his unethical real estate plans.

Kemp’s dilemma, going along with the flow or exposing the ‘bastards’ as he puts it, is the backbone of this movie. The pace is as relaxed as the setting and director Robinson succeeds well in translating the mood of Thompson’s novel to the white screen. The cast is on a roll as well. Depp, who once said he would like to play Thompson every few years, is solid as always. He gets excellent comic support from press associates Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi. Amber Heard and Aaron Eckhart play Chenault and Sanderson, whose characters add the necessary intrigue and substance to the story.

Obviously this is no Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the drug fueled craziness portrayed in that movie is largely absent. This is Thompson Light; a smaller movie without too much excessive behavior. Director Robinson did add one pretty funny drug scene that can be considered as a wink to big brother Fear and Loathing. In The Rum Diary, a novel that Thompson wrote many years before his Vegas-masterpiece, the author was still searching for his unique voice and it is pleasant to join him on this quest. It is best to keep some rum within reach though as you might get thirsty underway…

Gonzo Rating:

For Dutch speaking Thompson aficionados, check out also:
De Hunter S. Thompson kronieken
Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson SH-2007
Dromen en dronken deliriums in San Juan (Over ‘The Rum Diary’ van Hunter S. Thompson)
Een authentieke dichtbij-opname van de Hell’s Angels (door Hunter S. Thompson)
Hunter S. Thompson in 1970 – Decadentie en verderfelijkheid in het Zuiden
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: De ultieme trip van de jaren 70′
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
‘The Great Shark Hunt’ – Gebundelde waanzin van Hunter S. Thompson
Instructies voor het lezen van Gonzo Journalistiek
‘The Curse of Lono’ – Het Hawaii avontuur van Hunter S Thompson
Image board on Pinterest

Jeppe Kleyngeld

Dromen en dronken deliriums in San Juan (Over ‘The Rum Diary’ van Hunter S. Thompson)

‘Sounds of a San Juan night, drifting across the city through layers of humid air; sounds of life and movement, people getting ready and people giving up, the sound of hope and the sound of hanging on, and behind them all, the quiet, deadly ticking of a thousand hungry clocks, the lonely sound of time passing in the long Caribbean night.’
– The Rum Diary (1998)

The Rum Diary 1

Door Jeppe Kleyngeld

In 1960 bracht beroemd Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wat tijd door in San Juan, Puerto Rico waar hij werkte voor een sportblad, het begin van zijn carrière als sportverslaggever naast politieke junkie en toonaangevend auteur van de countercultuur beweging. Het blad ging kopje onder en Thompson solliciteerde bij de Engelstalige krant ‘The San Juan Star’, maar hij werd afgewezen. Terug in de Verenigde Staten kreeg hij in 1961 een baantje als beveiligingsbeambte bij de waterbronnen van Big Sur, Californië. In deze periode van acht maanden schreef hij twee boeken: ‘Prince Jellyfish’ en ‘The Rum Diary’. Thompson probeerde een uitgever te vinden voor deze boeken en faalde. ‘Prince Jellyfish’ is nooit uitgegeven, maar ‘The Rum Diary’ uiteindelijk wel in 1998.

‘The Rum Diary’ fictionaliseert Thompson’s ervaringen in Puerto Rico en zijn kwaliteiten als schrijver spatten van de pagina’s van deze prachtige roman. Het verhaal gaat over de jonge journalist Paul Kemp die bij een verlopen krant terecht komt in Puerto Rico, waar een zooitje dronken en parasitaire journalisten het proberen zo lang mogelijk uit te zingen voordat de krant definitief bankroet gaat.

Kemp heeft het gevoel dat hij al veel jaren verspild heeft, maar hij loopt tegen nieuwe mogelijkheden aan. Chenault – de sensuele vriendin van een collega – doet zijn lustgevoelens dermate opkomen dat het bijna te veel wordt. Dan is er de gladde PR-man Sanderson, die betrokken is bij louche dealtjes in de bloeiende economie van het Caribische land, waardoor Kemp geconfronteerd wordt met zijn eigen ambitieniveau. Wil hij voor weinig geld blijven schrijven over wat hij observeert? Of wil hij die kennis inzetten om rijk te worden, zoals Sanderson dat doet?

Hunter S. Thompson aan het werk in Aruba. De foto is gemaakt bij de Aruba Palm Beach Club met op de achtergrond het Aruba Caribbean Hotel. Thompson bezocht Aruba terwijl hij woonde op Puerto Rico.

Hunter S. Thompson aan het werk in Aruba. De foto is gemaakt bij de Aruba Palm Beach Club met op de achtergrond het Aruba Caribbean Hotel. Thompson bezocht Aruba terwijl hij woonde op Puerto Rico.

‘The Rum Diary’ is een roman over de jaren 60’ toen de wereld nog open lag voor Westerlingen om overal in te duiken en het welvaartsniveau lager lag, maar de hebzucht des te groter was. Ook is het een verhaal over liefde, drank, journalistiek en jezelf ontdekken. Kemp is nog niet het extreme Gonzo alter ego van Thompson dat Raoul Duke zou worden in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, maar een iets gematigdere persoonlijkheid. Johnny Depp die Kemp portretteerde in de verfilming zei dat hij Kemp speelde als een jonge Raoul Duke die nog op zoek was naar zijn stem.

Thompson’s kracht als schrijver ligt vooral in het typeren van groepen mensen, tijdsbeelden en plaatsen. Dat doet hij uitstekend in het uiterst sfeervolle ‘The Rum Diary’. Ik kreeg heel sterk de neiging om Al’s Backyard op te zoeken en me te buiten te gaan aan rum, bier, sigaretten en hamburgers.

Thompson’s legendarische humor is ook al regelmatig aanwezig en doet soms denken aan de paranoia hilariteit van ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, zoals in de volgende passage; ‘We spend the next six hours in a tiny concrete cell with about twenty Puerto Ricans. We couldn’t sit down because they had pissed all over the floor, so we stood in the middle of the room, giving out cigarettes like representatives of the Red Cross. They were a dangerous-looking lot. Some were drunk and others seemed crazy. I felt safe as long as we could supply them with cigarettes, but I wondered what would happen when we ran out. The guard solved this problem for us, at a nickel a cigarette. Each time we wanted one for ourselves we had to buy twenty – one for every man in the cell.’

De verfilming van ‘The Rum Diary’ heeft net als de boekuitgave lang op zich laten wachten. In 2000 werd een poging gedaan om het project van de grond te krijgen met Johnny Depp en Nick Nolte. De poging mislukte en de toen nog levende Thompson schreef een woedende brief naar de productiefirma en noemde het project een ‘waterhead fuckaround’. Een tweede poging tot verfilming in 2002 mislukte eveneens en uiteindelijk ging de productie pas in 2009 – na de dood van Thompson in 2005 – van start met Bruce Robinson (‘Withnail and I’) als regisseur. De film kwam in 2011 uit en kreeg gemengde kritieken. Een opvallend verschil met het boek is de integratie van de karakters Sanderson en Yeamon. Ook legt de desperate krantenuitgever Lotterman in de film niet het loodje aan het einde van het verhaal in tegenstelling tot het boek.

Wordt binnenkort vervolgd met een beschrijving van Hunter S. Thompson’s tweede boek ‘Hell’s Angels’.

Icon 11 - Bird