Breakfast with Hunter
by Del Harvey
Lovers and fans of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson will want to own this incredible documentary, now available on DVD.
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Wayne Ewing is a documentary filmmaker who has produced and directed over thirty docs for American television networks, including a whole slew of them for Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. His doc Blood’s of ‘Nam earned an Emmy nomination as part of PBS’ Frontline series. Somewhere in all of that, Mr. Ewing found time, eighteen years to be precise, to document Thompson’s carrying on.
Breakfast with Hunter features a great amount of footage of Mr. Thompson’s antics and endeavors. Love him or hate him, he is a true American outlaw of the first order, and he is unabashedly laid bare in all his glory or foolhardiness in this film. We are given quite a bit of contemporary Thompson, a man who has mellowed considerably. But don’t be fooled; this wicked Uncle Ernie can still tear up a motel room with the best of them. And he pulls a number of offhand pranks, such as visiting the ritzy LA offices of Rolling Stone and spraying Jan Wenner’s plush office with a fire extinguisher, a feat which causes Wenner to evacuate that corner of the building. But, this is Hunter S. Thompson, who single-handedly put Rolling Stone on the map and gave it credibility when all Wenner cared about was selling issues. The great reporter is given some leeway where most of us would be trotted off to the hoosegow and conveniently forgotten about for the next fourteen or so years.
When Thompson is on the set of Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is a moment where he waits for his 30 seconds on screen with the film’s stars, Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, hanging around and swilling Jack Daniels. He tries to flip the bottle in the air and catch it by the neck, but only succeeds in spraying del Toro and Depp with alcohol.
Footage of Thompson’s run for Sheriff of his long-time home of Woody Creek, Colorado (a neighbor of Aspen) is offered up lovingly, as well is other footage from various points in Mr. Thompson’s heady career. The more intriguing stuff is footage like that of his appearance at the infamous Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Johnny Depp and John Cusack appear with him, and Depp reads from Fear and Loathing. I had read that Depp spent three months with Thompson in order to study him for his portrayal in the film. The film is outstanding, thanks in large part to Depp’s tour de force performance, and his ensuing friendship with Thompson is well earned.
As a feature length documentary, Breakfast with Hunter is top-notch. The thing I was struck most with is just how much of a journalist Mr. Thompson is. He eschews the very spirit of the Bill of Rights, which most contemporary conservatives have forgotten was established by a bunch of outlaws banished from our Mother England. In his own way, Mr. Thompson stands for everything American, most especially freedom of speech and expression. As a tribute to a true American, as an homage to a true journalist, as a piece of history, Breakfast with Hunter is a standout documentary.
In addition to Depp and Del Toro, the film features such friends of Thompson as recently deceased songwriter Warren Zevon, artist Ralph Steadman, and fellow journalists George Plimpton and P.J. O’Rourke.
Del Harvey has been a fan of Mr. Thompson’s since college.
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