New York Times media reporter David Carr-a former crack enthusiast-takes a look at Gonzo, the new documentary about legendary drugs-and-freedom-loving journalist Hunter S. Thompson. "Few writers have commodified narcissism so completely - his participatory style of journalism became its own genre and gives the film its title - but still we are invited to sit in the dark of the theater and have a flashback about his flashbacks. When the film opens on July 4, why will people, as Thompson would say, buy the ticket, take the ride?"
The documentary by Mr. Gibney, who also made "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and "Taxi to the Dark Side," does not attempt to work around Thompson's endless self-consciousness but uses it as leverage instead. Produced by Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, and narrated by the actor Johnny Depp, "Gonzo" mirrors the subjectivity and immersion of the journalism Thompson and his trusty arsenal of psychoactive agents perpetrated in Rolling Stone and elsewhere. Mr. Gibney eschews narrative conventions and switches point of view on a dime, creating a prism of interviews and episodes that gradually assembles into a compelling portrait [...]
"I would argue that Hunter and Tom Wolfe are the two most original voices to come out of journalism in the last century, and it's no coincidence that they both worked for Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone," Mr. Carter said. "No one else was willing to push it that way, to take those risks." Mr. Gibney's documentary plays appropriate tribute by restricting its gaze to the nascent Thompson of the '60s and early '70s. By the time most of America knew who Thompson was, he was pretty much washed up, having gradually been overtaken by his own legend, with steady assists from the bottle, the drugs and his coven of enablers.
August men line up to pay their respects in the documentary - Patrick J. Buchanan, George McGovern, Jimmy Buffett, Gary Hart and Timothy Crouse, the author of the campaign memoir "The Boys on the Bus" - as do the women he loved. Both his first wife, Sandy, and second wife, Anita, testify to his courage and courtliness, in between pointing out that he could be mean as a snake and far less predictable. He broke through by covering a biker gang from the inside - he "rode with the Angels," as Mr. Wolfe puts it in the film - and took a serious beat-down on the way out. Journalism, as practiced by Thompson, was not something for sissies. [NYT]