Breakfast With Hunter Review
"I have caused some pain, and some hurt. But always to the right people." Dr Hunter S Thompson.
Know this, when the historians come back to pick over the bare bones of the twentieth century, the name of Dr Hunter S Thompson, and his terrible and wonderful alter ego, Raoul Duke, will be lit in lights for decades to come. No other writer has come as close to the savage heart of the American dream than him, and no other writer has managed to put into words the chaos and insanity they have found there. As if the classic novel 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' were not enough, the man has literally acres of journalism, letters and diaries to his name and even kick started a branch of journalism. The Gonzo school, a semi-joke wrought serious through technique, relies on subjectivity, exaggeration and chaos to make it's points. Then it takes those points, dips the tips in acid, and hurls them at whoever's nearest. If you're only familiar with the recent film version, (the creation of which is documented in Breakfast With Hunter), then you are urged to desist from reading one more word here and beg, borrow or steal a copy at once. The film, though enjoyable enough, does not begin to do justice to the horrible visions that Hunter is capable of creating through the written word. When people talk about books that can change lives, this is one of the ones they mean. It might not change your life for the better, but it's well worth the risk for the fun you'll have along the way.
As for the film, Breakfast With Hunter, what we have here is 91 minutes of anecdotes, incidents and live footage from book readings that will satiate the most depraved Hunter fan; and most Hunter fans are pretty depraved almost by definition. Hunter is witty, engaging and loves nothing better than to perform in front of the camera. At the start we get a taste of things to come. On his way through the offices of Rolling Stone magazine to attend a party thrown in his honour, he passes a fire extinguisher; unable to resist such succuluant and juicy temptation, he proceeds to cause chaos in his wake. "The party’s not cancelled", yells Jan Webber, the publisher of Rolling Stone, "But you're barred". There you have, in a nutshell, Hunter's appeal; he is, for all intents and purposes, a playful and dangerous child in the body of a drug addled man, albeit a with a mind as sharp, and as deadly, as a straight razor.
It's clear that director Wayne Ewing loves his subject. This could be a problem for some. Much of Hunter's past is less than savory and a look at his past with a less than sympathetic director could have resulted in a much more interesting film that let the viewer make their own minds up about the man behind the legends. As Ralph Steadman points out when discussing an up-coming court case, there are many crimes he's committed, but few he's been caught for. A few years age, there was a sex assault case, with charges eventually dropped, that the film completely glosses over, though it is mentioned in depth upon the commentary. One case that is dealt with in depth by the film is his trumped up, fairly recent, drunk driving charge, and just listen to the letter he wrote to the District Attorney, read in the film by John Cusack - "Dear Mr Wills, I am given to understand that you want me to come into the courthouse and officially surrender to you, in front of witnesses, so you can re-arrest me on some kind of vague chickenshit charge cooked up by officer Short...Is my information correct?...Did that vengeful dingbat actually fail to serve me with a valid legal summons?...Was he so crazy that he couldn't even arrest me properly?" It's wonderful stuff.
Perhaps the funniest, most interesting and revealing scene in the movie is a meeting between Alex Cox, Todd Davies and Hunter to discuss the prototype script for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. To say the meeting goes badly would be to do a serious disservice to the meaning of the word 'badly'. This meeting gives new and terrible depths the word 'badly'. It's almost painful to watch, as Cox and Davies bumble closer and closer to risking serious and real physical harm by insisting on discussing the animation they have planned for the film. Something Hunter does not take kindly to. "You keep insisting that my best work should be put into some sort of Mickey Mouse shit!" he yells, and it gets much, much worse. You owe it to yourself to see this scene. If it was scripted, it couldn't be funnier and it makes a great cautionary tale for any budding director who might be unsure about dealing with writers.
As a documentary, this is great opportunity to see the man behind the legends in action. What emerges is a warm, kind and often deranged man. It's well structured, and director Wayne Ewing has the sense to structure the film with intelligence and pace. Many scenes that seem inconsequential suddenly become loaded with meaning a bit later on, such as Ralph Steadman talking about the artwork for 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' which rings horribly in the mind when Alex Cox is discussing cartoons. It all fits together nicely and feels more cinematic than a film that's mainly filmed over someone's breakfast table should.
Filmed on digital video, in lovely 4.3, there's nothing to complain about. Colour is bright and strong and there's no damage, nor grain nor any other nasty defects.
Stereo only, but it's all as clear as a bell apart from Hunter's often mumbled dialogue, but no amount of mixing could alter that.
Not really bona-fide extras as such, but more extra scenes that didn't quite fit into the main feature. However, they are of fairly good quality.
"Screwjack" read by PJ O'Rourke and Don Johnson (9.47)
Shot in Hunter's kitchen, and featuring a reading by the above mentioned names of a sequence from a short story written by Hunter. Filthy and funny.
Gonzo journalism, drugs and writing with PJ O'Rourke(12.43)
"Gonzo Journalism is unlike objective journalism" states the Encarta Dictionary, and here you get a conversation between Hunter and O'Rourke that traces the history and roots of the style. It's informative and fun; PJ O'Rourke (author of Holidays In Hell and Republcian Party Animal amongst many others) and Hunter make strange bedfellows but there is obviously much love and respect between them. Features a lengthy extract from 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' read by O'Rourke.
Oscar Acosta, and what really happened to him, remembered by Hunter. (5.55)
Oscar Acosta was the real life attorney who accompanied Hunter to Las Vegas and was turned into 'Dr Gonzo' for the book and film. He disappeared half way though the seventies and here Hunter reveals what happened to him. The answer comes during the Viper Room Q&A session and it's quite shocking when it arrives.
The editing of 'Fear and Loathing in America'(6.04)
'Fear and Loathing in America' is a collection of letters and journalism from the late 60's and 70's and here we see Hunter and his editor's discuss the book and which selections are to be used. Interesting and featuring some nice reflections from Hunter on his reasons for entering local politics. Difficult to imagine how violent the confrontation between hippys, many of whom fled to Aspen, Colarado to escape the draft, and local inhabitants could sometimes be.
Warren Zevon and Hunter write lyrics together(4.14)
Warren Zevon is a musical artist, and here we see him and Hunter write songs together.
The editing of 'The Rum Diary"(5.10)
The Rum Diary is based on Hunter's experiences in Puerto Rico, and here we see him talking about editing the diaries he unearthed.
None of the extras contain subtitles
First Edition Special Features
It's unclear how long this first edition will actually be available, so grab hold of a copy now if the following appeal to you.
Subtitles for Hunter S Thompson's gonzo dialect
Subtitles for Hunter, but you don't really need them. He's not that unintelligible and it's annoying having just a portion of the film subtitled. None of the supplements are subtitled, and neither is his commentary so this just seems like an annoying gimmick.
Commentary by Hunter S Thompson and Director Wayne Ewing
Some people are designed to give good commentaries and others are not. Hunter is one of the 'others'. He only appears for the first 40 minutes or so, anyway, and that took 2 weeks to accomplish. His contribution merely extends to expanding slightly what we see on screen anyway. Happily, once he is out the way, Wayne Ewings gives an interesting and informative commentary that takes in the background of the filming and has gives a lot of depth to some of the subjects that the film does not cover. Some good anecdotes and tips for documentary makers make this an above average extra.
If you're a Hunter S Thompson fan, then this film is a dream come true. The man revealed to be just as colourful and insanely intelligent in real life as the writing he has produced suggests. If you're not, then there is much here that will just annoy you, and it won't change your opinion one iota. A good, if not earth shattering, collection of extras are just the icing on the cake. Not that easy to find in the UK at the moment, this really needs and deserves a R2 release, but in the meantime, you should be able to find a copy here.