The DVD comes in its little black box with a white sleeve, clean print listing the credits, praise from some critics and a quote from the man himself, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride.” Sounds good. The cover art is simple but evocative – what looks like a fist (but with two thumbs?), clenched over a flower, all in psychedelic colors, with a hint of Hunter as he looks in his cameo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam’s trippy adaptation of Thompson’s classic book.
The cover sleeve also makes much of the fact that this is cinema verité, assumedly meaning that we’ll get to see the undiluted, “200 proof” truth about the father of gonzo journalism. Well, as we all know, there is no such thing as an objective film. Every cut, every editing choice, every moment the filmmakers choose to include or not affects the nature of the overall portrait. What cinema vérité really means in this case is that this isn’t a “real” documentary, i.e. director Wayne Ewing didn’t do any specific research, interviews, etc. He just followed Hunter for a couple of years with a video camera and threw 91 minutes worth of footage together into what became “Breakfast”.
So you got Dr. Thompson on stage at the Viper Room with an inflatable doll and Johnny Depp (who portrayed him in Gilliam’s film), then there’s something about his DUI trial in Aspen, there’s a party at Rolling Stone celebrating the 25th anniversary of the influential “Fear and Loathing”, we see him with some of his old friends, then again on the Viper stage with John Cusack reading an angry letter Hunter wrote to the Aspen district attorney, there’s another tribute in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, there’s much about the difficult process of bringing “Fear and Loathing” to the screen (they didn’t have a screenplay for a long time, then Thompson fired original director Alex Cox because he wanted to use cartoons to depict the most outrageous imagery in the book…), there’s another damn tribute concerning Thompson’s coverage of the 1972 McGovern campaign, we see more of Depp, a little of Benicio del Toro…
I’m rambling here, but so is the film. It qualifies as a documentary only in the loosest definition of the word, as it’s mostly just a string of home videos poorly edited together with the occasional lame music cues that go for the biggest hippie clichés every time (“Mr. Tambourine Man”, “American Pie”…). If someone had similarly shot a bunch of footage of Hunter Thompson in the ‘60s and ‘70s when his legendary antics occurred, it would probably be fascinating – at least more than the late-in-the-game back-patting we have to watch instead. Every other segment is about people calling Hunter a genius, which he might be, but as presented here you wouldn’t know it. He yells a lot for no reason and generally behaves like a grade-A asshole. On paper there’s a cynical wit that surrounds his rants, but in “real life”, a loud old guy is just obnoxious.
“Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride,” See What It’s Like to Be a Drunken Old Asshole and Have People Keep Praising Your Every Burp!