Hunter S. Thompson is an enigmatic person. Though he did not originate Gonzo journalism, he is its most recognizable face. His first-person narrative newsgathering technique holds him somewhat responsible for the overarching tendencies of online journalism on both sides of the aisle, as well as all the cleaning calls that come with them. Thompson’s 1970 bid for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, heralded the start of baby boomer politicking. Fear and Loathing in Aspen, written and directed by Bobby Kennedy III, portrays the narrative with wit, wisdom, and oddity.
The picture captures the spirit of weird, fresh beginnings, set shortly before Thomson, played by Jay Bulger, found his stride with his 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Much of it is filmed on grainy, antique film material, and it appears that the performers were given access to at least medium quality, seedy hemp stock, as well as mescaline, cocaine, and plain old tobacco soaked in PCP. Fear and Loathing in Aspen does more than simply recreate the era; it authentically depicts the underground filming experience of the time.
Bill Murray’s portrayal as Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam is my fave. Though I enjoy Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Art Linson’s film portrays the odd societal gap more realistically since it was closer to the original material. Murray was himself, with Thompson’s mischievous personality encouraging him to be himself. Thompson’s unique speaking style was peppered throughout his delivery, yet he never insulted the chef.
Bulger nails Thompson’s demeanor while ever becoming caricatured. It’s a highly emotional performance, especially when Bulger lets Thompson expose his inner frustrations, something Johnny Depp never does until The Rum Diary.
Murray and Depp were able to meet Thompson in person. Bulger’s inner wildness is not projected on the internal projector behind his eyes, but he has spent a significant portion of his natural life engaged in Thompson’s profession. He was a gonzo journalist and Rolling Stone writer before donning the tinted aviator glasses, converse shoes, crumpled hat, and cigarette holder. We have no question that he is portraying a character, and when we watch the 8 mm home video film, we can see ourselves being duped into thinking Hunter had a full head of hair.
Hunter S. Thompson himself guides the audience through recordings he made during his political campaign. Thompson almost switched from writing articles to selling tickets, and he discovered a new buzz: political addiction. Bulger’s portrayal of the high’s highs and lows is vivid.
While Gillian attempted to express the inner LSD experience artistically, Fear and Loathing in Aspen depicts the outer surface of extravagant trippers. However, the low-budget, we-can-do-this-at-home familiarity delves deeper into the characters’ interiors. It’s much more challenging to fear the sheriff Hunter is attempting to depose when he claims to have gotten the chalk for his map of local intransigents from his children.
To Sheriff Carroll Whitmire, Thompson is as an outlaw as Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid (Laird Macintosh). He’s just trying to get out of Dodge. He’d undoubtedly covet Thompson’s arsenal of pistols, rifles, and other weapons. He is, nevertheless, sensible. Whitmire’s opponent runs on a Democratic “Jail Thompson” ticket that denigrates the top officer. Thompson will be running on the “Freak Power” ticket. In one brilliant scenario, Hunter shaves his head simply so he can refer to the incumbent Republican candidate for sheriff as “his long-haired opponent.”
Thompson’s first Rolling Stone essay, “The Battle of Aspen,” may be found in his classic collection, The Great Shark Hunt. The race was also the subject of the documentary Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb, released last year. Hunter, a former sportswriter, escaped to a cabin in the woods at the end of the 1960s to establish a family and write a novel after riding with the Hell’s Angels. The acid clarity inspires him to detect abnormal components in the stream and throw a foul-smelling material bucket at an Aspen town council meeting. As a result, the town’s enormous differences, generational, racial, economic, and corporate, are exposed.
Cheryl Hines, who plays Aspen Mayor Eve Homeyer, is amusing to despise in this role. She imparts a delightfully bland middle American flavor and leaves an indistinguishable aftertaste. Homeyer is entirely unaware of how manipulative she is. She doesn’t consider what she’s doing to be wrong. Sees no harm in evicting Aspen’s regulars to make way for developers and the wealthy. The primary emphasis of the film is subtle small-town prejudice and the overt insular framework that keeps the system in place. Kennedy keeps it current by addressing gentrification, the injustice of drug laws, appeals for police reform and demilitarization, and a plea for Colorado’s ecology.
Thompson’s fictitious campaign manager is played by Amaryllis Fox, a former CIA analyst. She is also his Jiminy Cricket and Cricket lighter, burning sentiments of conscience into his ear and grass in his pipe. Thompson’s home life is also shown in Fear and Loathing in Aspen. He teaches his son the ways of life and entertains his wife in the ways of sons. Bobby Kennedy III met Thompson when he was a youngster, along with his father, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a longstanding friend of the Gonzo writer. Thompson, the person, comes out as much as the guy who raged against social inequalities and dysentery with equal intensity and often in the exact phrase.
The only thing lacking is a piece of symbolic music. The music, created by Wayne Kramer, John Paul Roney, and The Futurebirds, evokes the sound and atmosphere of the time, although a familiar song or two would have helped the period piece’s problems.
Much of what was illegal in 1970 is now commonplace. Thompson, who committed suicide at 67 on February 20, 2005, is as much to blame as Chicago 7 graduates or Angela Davis. The freak has inherited the planet, yet it is still too expensive for us. “This is a fictitious narrative with fictional characters adapted from a true story,” the closing credits state. Which is a long way of saying you can’t make this stuff up. It’s natural and as genuine as it feels. Fear and Loathing in Aspen is enjoyable, even though it does not have a happy conclusion. However, in this situation, feeling good is not necessary. It’s brief yet gratifying and yet tricky enough to make you think about giving anything like this a shot at home.