As the train slows to one of its five stops, I briefly consider getting off and walking back to my car for God only knows what. But I stay put, fingers on keys. After all, I bought the ticket, I'm taking the ride. This is all in preparation to write about a truly avant-garde writer, reporter, adventurer, hedonist and philosopher... one Hunter S. Thompson. Or, rather, as this cracked land with the high chaparral and the bent signs and long stretches of Ocean and sun-bleached train stations zooms by me, I prepare to write about an independent documentary about the man from Kentucky. Breakfast with Hunter, it's called. It's from independent film maker Wayne Ewing, who spent quite a lot of time with the man himself (not only at breakfast) to document a good stretch of the man's life in the late 1990s. And it wasn't for the last time.
I look again for the birds and I see none. Perhaps they have the sense to stay the hell out of Encinitas. Regardless of how much time goes by in this desperate, over-populated western stretch, the swallows always return to Capistrano, leaving Encinitas to the dogs and lonely commuters.
As the moisture-stained buildings give way to yet another welcome stretch of the Ocean I divide my time between musing over this film and looking for the sharp fins of dolphins as they dare the surfers to assume they are not Bull Sharks. Breakfast with Hunter, in spite of my distraction by the blue desert, is quite a fine film, presenting a few puzzle pieces of the life of the Father of Gonzo Journalism in a scattered, yet ultimately coherent box, giving us a view of the man as if we might be meeting him ourselves and learning a bit about someone we've only heard of before now... a bit at a time.
As Ewing helps to extend Hunter's invitation to ride hard in his red Chevy, top down, of course, and experience some of what it's like to be HST, we learn a good deal of just what this means through Hunter's friends and family, his acquaintances, the strangers who think they know him and, in a few cases, his worst enemies. In no small part, however, we learn about Hunter from Hunter himself, an unrestrained soul in this wasteland of phonies who dares say exactly what's on his mind, be it grounded in reality's facts or bent somehow in some fiction he creates as his Chevy rolls through life, Scotch Rocks in hand!
While the centerpiece here includes the trials and tribulations of the events leading up to and emanating from the adaptation of his acclaimed work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this is far, far from a "Making of..." Documentary. This is more of a stream of consciousness (dare I say "Gonzo") collection of events from the time Ewing spent with Thompson along with archival footage to fill in many blanks, tapings of public appearances and more than a lot of "fly on the wall" moments that somehow form a full story worth watching to the discerning viewer (those forty-four of you still left alive out there).
Along the way we meet Johnny Depp (who appears both before and after he is cast to play Raoul Duke [Hunter's alter-ego in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas]), Benicio del Toro, John Cusack, Christina Ricci, Juan Thompson (Hunter's son) and even the artist whose drawings have become synonymous with Fear and Loathing... (as well as with Hunter himself) Ralph Steadman.
Throughout all this, Hunter comes off as a favorite Uncle, both loveable and curmudgeonly, quirky and cool with outbursts that could make a Buckingham Palace Guard flinch and quiet moments that make one want to buy the man a drink (or, rather, a refill), or a new cancer stick for his ubiquitous cig holder. Although Hunter generally comes off as human and complex, Ewing never makes excuses for just who this wild writer really is. Nor does Hunter himself. Hunter S. Thompson realizes he's become a legend (in spite of the fact that we do see he's a regular, if wild and free, guy) and he's proud of the works he's made, hence the wild skewering Repo Man director Alex Cox gets when Hunter reads his proposed draft for the Fear and Loathing film. Producer Laila Nabulsi doesn't fare a whole lot better. But this hardly turns Hunter into a villain in his own film. Instead it shows that the complexities of the man go deeper than just what we see on the page. He doesn't appear to take nearly as much issue with eventual director Terry Gilliam when he takes over the picture.
As the film progresses we get to hear quite a lot of what Hunter wrote (though, admittedly only a miniscule percentage of what's out there) from the lips the likes of Depp, Cusack and Thompson himself, reading from manuscripts gone by and even letters to none-too-favored public figures.
And the cast is hardly done with even then. Breakfast with Hunter is also attended by old friends, colleagues and (yes, even more) enemies. P.J. O'Rourke, Harry Dean Stanton, George Plimpton, Frank Mankiewicz, Lyle Lovett, George McGovern (whose presidential bid Thompson covered in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail), Warren Zevon, Robert Chalmers, Douglas Brinkley and more all stop in for a bite. Some of the more interesting moments are those we would be unlikely to see in another maker's film, especially the stretch of time that Depp actually lived with Hunter at The Owl Farm to pin down his quirky mannerisms.
This too can be part of the problem of Breakfast with Hunter. Though there are several scenes from the past thrown in, a good bit of the history of this man is assumed to be known by the viewer (in other words, it's a documentary for fans). Further, quite a few of the moments we see here are those that might not warrant the scrutiny of just any old Joe watching this film. To those who might take issue with Ewing's variable approach, take note that this was the first of a string of three Documentaries Wayne Ewing created, each focusing on a different aspect of Hunter S. Thompson. All of them are worth seeing, all of them tell a story... but even Wayne Ewing would tell you that nobody tells a story like Hunter.
As the train slows into the Santa Fe station and the mechanical clicking that only this car makes heralded our stop in its rhythmic, slowing echo, "Cli-cli-cli-click-click! Cli-cli-cli-click-click! Clih...clih... clih... Click! Click! Clih...clih... clih... Click! Click! Clih. Clih. Cli-", the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson appeared beside me and read over my shoulder for a moment before his head pulled back and his barely visible eyes widened behind his smoke-colored aviators. He shouted "You call that a review? What the hell do you think you're doing, you jackass! You trying to sound like me in this piece? Hell, you lost it half way through anyway. You're no writer! I should sue ya! Hell with you!" and he vanished before I could respond in my own defense or condemnation. Point well taken. There is only one Hunter S. Thompson. Let's hope old Burgess doesn't read my A Clockwork Orange review. Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Breakfast with Hunter. One of many good documentaries on a true one-of-a-kind.
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