'Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson'

To be sure, we are all the authors of our own lives. We construct our personal narratives out of experience, choices and, hopefully, insight and understanding. Each of us has a story to tell &

some are transcendent and accomplished, others fraught with tragedy and misdirection.

To make a documentary film about one singular life begs the question: Why this life? More specifically, why Hunter S. Thompson? What was there about Thompson that was so compelling that Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Darkside") would dedicate his talent and artistic efforts to creating an intimate, disturbing and elusive glimpse into the man who gave birth to what is called "Gonzo" journalism. So why "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson"?

Was it simply Thompson's extraordinary talent as a writer? Was it his willingness to run along a precipice, tempting fate, while downing whatever might alter his consciousness, a signature cigarette in a truncated holder dangling from his mouth, while gleefully daring anyone to challenge his new brand of reporting?

Or was it that Thompson was a comet, burning brightly, leaving a tumultuous, contradictory and luminescent trail of generosity, happiness, rage and discontent in his wake? Or are such people intriguing because they remind us that life should be lived intensely, fully, that life should be high-risk, high-gain? There is also the possibility that this film reminds us of a truism: Fame can devour talent.

Thompson's unique brand of reporting &

characterized by a colleague as being the most accurate and the least factual &

occurred when he embedded himself in a story and then wrote from the inside out. Which he did when he lived with and wrote about the Hells Angels. An experience that resulted in a riveting story for The Nation magazine and later a book, "Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang." His account of a battalion of bikers mounted on "iron horses" served to launch Thompson's career and gave Gonzo journalism new meaning. This was classic Thompson, writing in a compulsive, manic, first-person voice, having jettisoned any attempt at objectivity.

As the film shows, Thompson's life mirrored his writing: He was Gonzo. He lived from the inside out. Not unlike the Angels, he stoked the flames of contempt for authority, seeming to nurture an abiding rage, while searching out assignments that would allow him to chronicle events, all viewed through his own unique (some might say distorted) prism. There's a saying oft repeated by those who lived through the '60s: If you remember those years, you weren't there. Well, Thompson was there, out in the all of it, and it was his mission to write about it: erratically, intensely and often brilliantly.

It soon becomes clear in this captivating film that Thompson, like so many who worship at the shrine of the written word, couldn't not write. We see image after image of him bent over his typewriter, hammering out crisp, stylized sentences and paragraphs. One outcome was the book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" which, Thompson said, was the search for the American Dream, or the death of same.

"Fear and Loathing" became (like his ever-present cigarette) a signature term that he would often resurrect depending on his assignment. He mourned the death of Bobby Kennedy and then went on to write about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, while watching the clashes of protesters with police from his hotel window. He covered the 1972 campaign of George McGovern &

"Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail." And he shredded Nixon. He fought with his demons and he wrote and wrote, often for Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone magazine.

Gibney's film ultimately doesn't answer the question: Why Thompson? Perhaps it's self-evident. He bore witness to a period unlike any other, a cultural convergence that rocked the nation: civil rights, Vietnam and the age of Aquarius. Gibney does capture &

using strong visuals, interviews, vintage footage and snapshots &

if not the essence of Hunter S., at the very least his persona, which flirted with caricature. To be sure, there was something Shakespearean about Thompson, a dark foreshadowing that this, his life, would not end well. As if fear and loathing were twin tigers with which he did daily battle, using his typewriter as a shield, taming his demons, however briefly, with elegant and groundbreaking prose, a kind of demented, angry, yet gripping hagiography of his time.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival and Coming Attractions Theatres will present two special showings of "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" at the Varsity Theatre Friday, Aug. 15, at 6 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. to benefit the AIFF and continue the festival's monthly film series. Tickets are discounted 25 percent for AIFF members and are available at the Varsity Theatre Box office, 166 N. Main St.

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