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New York Cool - Interview

Wendy R. Williams Talks With
Alex Gibney of Gonzo:
The Life and Work of
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Press Roundtable
Regency Hotel/New York City
June 26, 2008

Opposite Photo:
Alex Gibney
Photos Credit of Magnolia Pictures


Just thinking about Hunter Thompson makes me smile. I loved director Terry Gilliam's film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (starring Johnny Depp as Thompson) and now see Vegas with Gonzo'd eyes. I recently saw the film, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and afterwards interviewed the director, Alex Gibney. Here is a copy of my review of the documentary (be sure to scroll down for the interview with Alex Gibney). (And be sure to read Julia Sirmons' New York Cool interview with Gibney about his Academy Award winining documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side).

Alex Gibney's
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson
Opens Friday, July 4, 2008

Featuring: Interviews with former President Jimmy Carter; Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern; Conservative Commentator Pat Buchanan; Jann Wenner (the publisher of Rolling Stone); Author Tom Wolfe; singer and song writer Jimmy Buffett; and Hunter Thompson's illustrator, cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Narrated by Johnny Depp. Produced by: Graydon Carter; Jason Kliot and Joanna Vicente; Eva Orner; and Allison Ellwood.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Even if you were not around for Hunter Thompson’s glory days, the days when he rode the buses/planes to cover the Presidential campaigns of Senator George McGovern and President Jimmy Carter for Rolling Stone, you might have become enchanted with Thompson when you saw the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (starring a whacked out Johnny Depp as Thompson). And you would have become enchanted as in, “That was one funny fucked-up guy. I think I would have liked him.”

Here is a quote from the press release for Alex Gibney's (of Academy Award winning Taxi to the Dark Side fame) new documentary film Gonzo: “Gonzo is a three-dimensional portrait with a focus on Thompson's work, whose legendary status is due as much to his scintillating writing as his outrageous antics. A die-hard member of the NRA, Thompson was also a coke-snorting, whiskey-swilling, acid-eating fiend. While his pen dripped with venom for crooked politicians, he surprised nervous visitors with the courtly manners and soft-spoken delivery of a Southern gentleman. Careening out of control in his personal life, Thompson also maintained a steel-eyed conviction about righting wrongs. Today, in a time when “spin” has replaced the search for deeper meaning, Thompson remains an iconic crusader for truth, justice and a fiercely idealistic American way.”

Thompson created a creative form of interpretive journalism which he called Gonzo Journalism. He wrote spoofy coverage stating things like Senator Ed Muskie was under the influence of a psychoactive drug, Ibogaine. He could also be mega goofy, acting for home movies while wearing a Richard Nixon masks and swimming in his pool. No one was immune from his scathing comedic coverage, but it was never just name calling - Thompson was clever; his words are a delight to read. But underneath the humor is a lot of anger, anger about the state of affairs in this our United States of America. And the anger that Hunter felt resonates today; we are still surrounded by reaming buckets of hypocrisy.

Director Alex Gibney obviously had a hell-of-a-time making Gonzo; he interviewed George McGovern, Jimmy Carter AND Pat Buchanan. He also incorporated Hunter’s home movies, psychedelic clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and interviews with both of Hunter’s wives into his film. What emerges is a definitive biography of (as described by director Alex Gibney) America’s first blogger, Dr. Hunter Thompson.

For more information about the movie, log onto:

Hunter Thompson

The Interview with Alex Gibney of Gonzo

Question if he had ever met Hunter Thompson:

Alex Gibney: No, I didn’t. I have joked that I am the perfect person to do the film because I did not know Hunter from Adam. I had read his work and thought it would be good to cover a journalist. Part of the attraction was that we share political beliefs. [But another part was that] Thompson was so funny. After working on Taxi to the Dark Side, it was fun to work on a light romantic comedy [this was a joke]. Taxi was very dark. When I was working on these films, I had two cutting rooms next to each other – one for Taxi and one for Gonzo. And sometimes the darkness of Taxi spilled over on Gonzo.

Hunter had a lot of deep-seated anger toward the way things were, but he expressed it through humor. There were there parts: anger; humor; and use of language.

Hunter was our first blogger.

Rolling Stone was an underground magazine when Hunter wrote for it, but everyone read it.

Hunter Thompson

Question about celebrity journalism and the possibility that celebrity takes away from the quality of the work:

Alex Gibney: I really liked Tim Russert, he was a nice guy. But when he died people were saying that it was like when JFK died. Well, I don’t think so. Christiane Amanpour tries very hard to be a journalist, but she is a huge celebrity also. But others "say" they don’t court celebrity, like Tom Wolfe, who is never seen in public unless he is wearing a white Saville Row suit.

But Hunter never pretended to be a New York Times style journalist. He never pretended to be delivering straight news, it was all filtered through Gonzo.

Question about what it was like to talk to George Mc Govern:

Alex Gibney: McGovern is a very decent man. You know you are getting the truth; McGovern does not have guile. I had a strange day with McGovern while I was filming Gonzo. In the morning I interviewed McGovern and in the afternoon I interviewed Pat Buchanan.

Question about what it was like to talk to former President Jimmy Carter:

Alex Gibney: I had a long conversation with Carter. He vented to me about how outraged he was that the Vice President of the United States could be espousing torture.

Early in Carter’s campaign for the Presidency, Hunter got to spend three days with Carter. Afterwards he lost the tapes. He tried to reschedule his interview, but by then Carter’s candidacy had really taken off and he no longer had time for an in-depth interview. Hunter tried all kinds of things, including setting a fire [a real fire] under Jody Powell’s [Carter’s press secretary] door. Jimmy Carter had to come down from upstairs to calm Hunter down.

Question about what it was like to work with Johnny Depp:

Alex Gibney: Johnny Depp rolled into town, did his thing and left. But Depp and Hunter were very close. There is a room in Hunter’s room called Johnny’s room.

Question about why Gibney did not cover more of Hunter’s relationship with his wives in the film:

Alex Gibney: My mission was to cover Hunter’s life through his work. I ruddered toward the work. But I did cover some [of his romantic life]. When I was going through his first wife’s things, I found the phone sex conversation that ended Hunter’s first marriage.

Question about whether the drugs created Hunter Thompson’s genius:

Alex Gibney: It was more that Hunter wrote despite the drugs. Just because you take a lot of heroin, you don’t become Charlie Parker.

In the beginning, he was transformed by psychedelic drugs like acid. It freed up his associations. What really brought Hunter down was the alcohol. Alcohol mixed with speed at first and later with coke. I think Hunter was actually bi-polar and was self medicating.

The cartoonist Steadman (who drew the illustrations for Hunter’s articles) was transformed by Hunter and also by the drugs. Steadman also had a darkly funny sense of humor.

Question about Hunter and guns:

Alex Gibney: Hunter remained a member of the NRA to his death. [Hunter Thompson killed himself by shooting himself with a rifle]. He loved shooting guns, playing with guns. He liked to blow things up and play with fire.

Hunter was filled with contractions – he had a great sense of optimism mixed with the dark side – the fear and loathing. Bush and Nixon appealed to his fear and loathing side. Both did that very well.

Question about Hunter’s suicide:

Alex Gibney: None of us can every really know why someone kills himself, know why someone else commits suicide. Some people say it was the Bush election. But suicide is very narcissistic. It is very narcissistic to kill yourself while you are on the phone with your wife and your grandson is in the next room.

Question about what it was like to be nominated (and win) and and an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side:

Alex Gibney: I was walking down the red carpet and the photographers rushed up to me to say, “Would you please step aside, Jennifer Aniston is coming.”

But once I had the Oscar in my hand, it was my entrée for the rest of the night. Wherever I went, I went right in. It was like having Gandalf’s staff.

Question about what he [Gibney] is working on next:

Alex Gibney: I am working on Magic Bus, a time-travel immersion experience of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their infamous road-trip to the 1964 World's Fair.


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