Breakfast With Hunter
Review by Jon Waterman
Dr. Hunter S. Thompsonís novel ďFear and Loathing in Las VegasĒ is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Along with a re-release, a movie version is in the works. With so much attention being redirected to the outspoken, eccentric genius, what can be done to capture all the precious moments? Why, have a documentary crew follow you around and chronicle these resurgent years, of course.
It somewhat surprised me to see that Hunter allowed the camera to shadow his moves. Iím not very familiar with the man, and I always assume authors are reclusive and shun such massive amounts of attention so as to not reveal their true selves to the public. Thompson is different. Sort of. He has his moments of wacky antics and he acts on impulse with regularity. These shenanigans set the stage for his writings and for what to expect from his public engagements. To some extent this is his true self. We also see the artistic side coming out in discussions about the forthcoming movie. We see his political side in his ongoing court and election dealings. But he never talks to the camera. He never shows us any indication of where his talent or drive comes from. I know drugs play(ed) a significant role, but I donít see the passion in his current life. I donít see a desire to live when he sprays the fire extinguisher at people. I donít see the will to create coming through. So, from what I gathered, Hunter is open to the public, but closed to the private audience.
In fact, the whole piece seems distant. At times when Hunterís character is in question, the sequence is short and not thoroughly explored. A glaring instance of this is when illustrator Ralph Steadman confronts Thompson about why he wasnít taken to Vegas and what his drawings really mean for the stories. In two years of filming, this was the only included conversation that indicated history or motivations and the audience gets closed out. In addition, the camera keeps space between itself and the subject. Sure, this allows for a quick shift of focus, but it doesnít cater to any intimacy, which is needed in a documentary showing important events in one manís life. Multiple cameras at times would have cramped the space some, but would have given more chances to capture important insert shots or emotional moments. Itís also distant due to the time frame. The film takes place in the late 1990s, but is released in the early-mid 2000s. Most of the events no longer foreshadow or get people excited because theyíve already occurred and thereís no surprise as to how the film is going to turn out or who will star or direct. Also, I found the lack of an epilogue a little disheartening considering the large gap and the unanswered questions (mainly about the court proceedings).
So far, it sounds like I hate the movie. I donít. I think itís very functional, but lacks introspection. I like that it avoids the talking heads or interview tactic and allows the events to tell the story. And the story is told effectively. Cross cutting between events and home life does give a well-formed picture of HST, albeit incomplete. Hunter himself is a fun character to watch and listen to (if you can understand what heís saying) and his presence alone adds a little pop. It would have been nice to see how he came to be such an admired writer and icon. We were teased with old footage of his campaign to be elected Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, but little other historical background is given. Thereís so much more to him and what he was and is that is left alone. The documentary is very much ďIn-the-now.Ē And ďthe nowĒ has come and gone.