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Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Breakfast With Hunter

My introduction to Hunter S. Thompson came in the form of an out-of-context passage from one of his books. In it, a man was hanging half-way out of red cherry convertible on the Las Vegas strip. Being both extremely drunk and high, and covered in vomit, he suddenly decided to strike up a conversation with the people in the car across from him. "You wanna buy some heroin," he asked. His fellow motorists, off-duty cops attending a nearby convention, didn't think it was too funny.

OK, I'm not doing the thing justice so I'll stop right here. I've read plenty of so-called classics of 20th century literature and, as strange as this might sound, I think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas deserves a spot alongside the collected works of Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce and all the rest. In fact, I'd be willing to give it The Great Gatsby's spot. Thompson’s "death of the American dream" metaphor is far more hard-hitting and his novel doesn't consist of a bunch of dull, rich stiffs sitting around drinking gin for 300 pages. Now that I think of it, 95% of the literary cannon consists of books about dull, rich stiffs who sit around drinking gin but I digress.

When I heard that passage, I became a life-long Thompson fan. I've got a copy of Fear signed by Pat Boone (long story) and, unlike so few others, I actually bought a copy of his most recent work. Ok, time for an awkward segue: Breakfast With Hunter, a documentary about the author, is playing at the Clinton Street Theater this week.

One of Thompson's neighbor's apparently filmed the doc over a number of years. It mostly focuses on his efforts to get the ball rolling on a film production of Fear, which was finally released in 1998. The highlight of the Breakfast is a meeting between Alex Cox, his assistant and Thompson at Owl Farm, his Colorado homestead. Cox was initially attached to direct the film but later left due to "creative differences."

First off, to greet them, the author left a blow-up doll in a snow drift by the front gate. They weren't amused. Later, as the three of them sat around a kitchen table, the director started rattling off a series of odd ideas for the film. Among them was a proposal that it begin with the novel's "wave" passage. In it, a cartoon Johnny Depp would have ridden an ocean wave from Las Angeles to Vegas before crash-landing in the Circus Circus Casino. If you read the book or seen the movie, it's obvious that the idea is pretty bad. Cox's version of Fear would have incorporated animated segments like this with live action.

At one point during the discussion, the assistant suggests that Ralph Steadman's drawings were what made the book popular, not his prose. Up to this point, the author listened politely to their ideas. This is what finally sent him into a rage. Probably knowing that the author has chased others off his property with shotguns and cattle prods, the two politely excused themselves. Unsurprisingly, the were later removed from the project.

The rest of the film consists of Hunter following around Depp and Benecio del Toro on the set. Depp seems perpetually in awe of the author whereas del Toro seems genuinely afraid of him. With the exception of the confrontation with Cox, Breakfast feels like a slapped together series of home movies. Is it worth tracking down? No, not really. If it's information on the making of the film that you're looking for, the Criterion DVD release is the way to go.

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