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Gibney seems to take these classic gonzo pieces at face value, either missing the joke or purposefully ignoring the essential shtick of both the Derby story and the Vegas book, namely, the drug-addled hipster jeering at “square” America.
Ultimately, Thompson’s self-aggrandizement and his notorious substance abuse were his undoing. Fame cost him the anonymity he’d used to his advantage as a reporter. By the mid-1970s, as he explains in one film clip, his fame was such that when he went to cover Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, he signed more autographs than Carter did.
His boozing and drugging took an even greater toll, contributing to a series of botched assignments that most notably included a 1974 trip to Zaire to cover the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, during which a drugged-out Thompson managed to miss the fight entirely.
YET WHILE THOMPSON’S later work never matched the acclaim he’d won for Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or his ‘72 campaign coverage, Gibney’s film almost completely ignores the last two decades of the writer’s life.
Gonzo cuts directly from Thompson’s years in the late '70s hanging out with Jimmy Buffet in Key West to his 2005 suicide at his cabin near Aspen. In doing so, Gibney skips over Thompson’s coverage of the 1982 Roxanne Pulitzer divorce trial, his years as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, his final gig as a columnist for ESPN.com, and his long legal crusade to free Lisa Auman, who’d been sentenced to life in prison as an accessory to a 1997 murder.
Gibney’s shortchanging of Thompson’s later career reflects the narrative of the biography (also entitled Gonzo) that Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour published last fall. Wenner’s portrayal of Thompson’s final years as a “humiliating” afterthought angered his widow, Anita, who married him in 2003 after three years as his editorial assistant.
Despite its flaws, Gibney’s film still fascinates, if only because Thompson’s larger-than-life personality was so inherently fascinating. A boring documentary about Thompson would be impossible, and as long as Gonzo remains focused on its subject — rather than indulging in romanticized '60s nostalgia — it compels attention, even without a brain full of mescaline.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?