Breakfast With HunterReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/22/03 16:44:11
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2003 STARZ DENVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Great men cause great fear. That's been the case throughout western history, as the minds that reach highest scare the mundane among us most. Hunter S. Thompson has a mind that few can comprehend - he's unearthed future Presidents, explored the intricacies of the political process while sitting on a plane with Richard Nixon, been characterized in several Hollywood feature films, and managed to somehow avoid punishment for seemingly decades of social lawbreaking. And thus comes Wayne Ewing’s new documentary, Breakfast With Hunter; a cinematic exploration that is perhaps the closest you can get to Thompson without receiving an invite up to the 'fortified compound'.Wayne Ewing has been around the block when it comes to making documentaries. An Emmy Award-winning contributor to PBS’ Front Line, Ewing has shot over 40 documentaries for TV, as well as a ton of episodic TV shows such as Mike Hammer, Homicide, and currently Crime and Punishment. That in itself makes him more than capable of putting together an impressive documentary outing. What makes this particular effort all the more impressive is that Ewing has been a neighbor of Hunter S. Thompson for the last 18 years.
Allowed hitherto unfathomable access to the enigmatic literary icon, Ewing goes in like Ajax – he gets in where others can’t. Take for example one scene, where filmmaker Alex Cox and Thompson go at it tooth and nail, arguing about whether the movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas should include animation or not. “You want a war? You’ve got a war,” the writer fumes, as Cox and his screenwriter make for the exits like bats out of a very warm, fiery place. What’s amazing about this scene isn’t that Thompson is unreasonable, or that Cox doesn’t know when to shut the hell up, but that neither of them seem to remember that Ewing is in the corner with a camera.
Ditto when Thompson goes over a document that essentially signals the local law’s decision to abandon a court case against him – Ewing’s camera picks up Thompson reading the agreement aloud, as well as Benicio Del Toro’s qualms with the wording of the piece. Later, Thompson goes to Johnny Depp’s home to convince him to reschedule his life to accommodate a new Fear and Loathing start date (with a new director attached), and Depp agrees but only if Thompson will teach his bird to speak. What follows is a chase through the house as the pair try to capture the escaped bird, and a momentary revelation about the Gonzo journalist’s past as he tries to console the bird by empathizing “I was in jail for rape when I was 15.”
Those who ridicule the good Doctor Thompson as being yesterday’s man, or a drugged up lunatic, are completely missing the point of his actions, and this documentary goes further than any other record of Thompson in making that apparent. Sure, you’ll see Thompson cause a few thousand bucks worth of damage to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s office when someone absent-mindedly leaves a fire extinguisher lying around, and you’ll also see dozens of times when Thompson is slugging down a glass of scotch at times he shouldn’t (driving, walking around the office, on-stage, et al). But so fucking what? What the President has for breakfast this morning isn’t nearly as important as what decisions he makes before lunch, and Hunter S. Thompson has managed, despite what he might do to his liver, to churn out some of the most scathing political and social writing of this, or any other, time in history.
If there’s a beef that can be claimed against this documentary, it’d be that anyone who didn’t know who Thompson was might find it hard to keep track with what they’re seeing on screen. Events are shown without context, speeches are given by people we might not know, and as for a conclusion… well, there isn’t one – thank God. The death of Thompson might have given the film a nice big exclamation point to go out on, but his continuing life, legacy and drive to make positive change in the world are abundantly apparent in what we see on screen. Ewing explains these issues away as a preference for a verite-style of documentary, where events tell the story without bias, rather than having talking heads recount tales with their own tilt. It's a valid defense, though it really changes the target audience of the film from everyone with an interest to those with a little background knowledge of who Thompson is.
Regardless, this documentary is most definitely the good stuff. Okay, sure, I’m biased as hell. I’ve been a huge fan of Thompson’s work for many years, and can even point to his influence at the exact moment I decided to be a scribe. Added to that, I’ve sat at the man’s knee and spent hours talking about politics in modern day America, so take my opinion, by all means, with a grain of salt.But also do this: read a Hunter S. Thompson book – any book. Rum Diaries, Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, The Curse of Lono, Hell’s Angels – take your pick. And once you’ve done that, and consumed the evil humor, multi-layered wisdom and outright civil disobedience therein, watch Breakfast With Hunter and see past the easy accusations of drugs and violence and insanity, to the man beneath… one of the great political, literary, comedic and activist achievers of our time. This is one I’ll be pre-ordering on DVD and I recommend you do likewise. For more info, and to pre-order your own copy, visit http://www.breakfastwithhunter.com
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