A Magnolia Pictures Release
THE LIFE AND WORK OF
DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON
An Alex Gibney Film
Narrated by Johnny Depp
119 min, Aspect Ratio: 1.78
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“Gonzo” is the definitive film biography of a mythic American figure, a man that Tom Wolfe called our “greatest comic writer,” whose suicide, by gunshot, led Rolling Stone Magazine, where Thompson began his career, to devote an entire issue (its best-selling ever) to the man that launched a thousand sips of bourbon, endless snorts of cocaine and a brash, irreverent, fearless style of journalism – named “gonzo” after an anarchic blues riff by James Booker.
Borrowing from Kris Kristofferson, Thompson was a “walking contradiction, partly truth, mostly fiction.” A die-hard member of the NRA, he 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. Like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (and the movie made from it) remains a wanderlust myth for generation after generation of American youth. And for America’s most esteemed journalists – from Tom Wolfe, and Walter Isaacson (former editor of Time) to the NY Times’ Frank Rich – he remains an iconic freelance, never afraid to gore every sacred cow in his path. He believed that writing could make a difference. It could change things.
GONZO is directed by Alex Gibney, the Academy Award nominated director of Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room and the director of the Academy Award winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. While Gibney shaped the screen story, every narrated word in the film springs from the typewriters of Thompson himself. Those words are given life by Johnny Depp, the actor who once shadowed Thompson’s every move for the screen version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and who bankrolled Thompson’s spectacular funeral (photographed for this film) in which the good doctor’s ashes were fired from a rocket launcher mounted with a towering two-thumbed fist whose palm held a giant peyote button.
This two-year effort was produced by an extraordinary team, including Gibney; Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair; the indie producing team of Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente; Eva Orner and Alison Ellwood. Ellwood, an extraordinarily creative editor, was also Gibney’s collaborator on Enron. The film’s Director of Photography was Maryse Alberti.
The film is distinguished by its unprecedented cooperation of Thompson’s friends, family and estate. The filmmakers had access to hundreds of photographs and over 200 hours of audiotapes, home movies and documentary footage of the man. In addition, the estate granted unusual access to the work itself, allowing the film to quote from unpublished manuscripts, as well as the many letters, books and articles that Thompson produced. Ralph Steadman – the visionary artist whose ink-splattered drawings and paintings created a subversively iconic visual landscape for Thompson’s words – also granted the filmmakers access to previously unpublished artworks and Polaroid’s.
The signature of the film, however, is its focus on Thompson’s work, particularly his most provocative and productive period from 1965 to 1975. His wicked words resonate today, at a time when politicians have become manufactured celebrities, shrouding themselves in Teflon, issuing banalities whose only value is that they rarely offend. Too often, contemporary journalists play the politicians’ game, taking them seriously with a balance they don’t deserve. Thompson never stood for that. He understood, better than any other, that when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Anyone thinking about directing a film about Hunter Thompson must keep two of the good doctor’s warnings in mind: 1) “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”; 2) “Buy the ticket take the ride.”
Well, nearly three years ago, when Roy Ackerman, Graydon Carter and Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente all suggested that I might take on the Dr. Thompson story, I was naively enthusiastic – like a young schoolboy about to take his first hit of orange sunshine – but I had no idea what kind of ride I was in for.
Now, I limp into Sundance with a ruptured disc, a green liver and spots in my eyes that won’t disappear. My editor and collaborator, Alison Ellwood, has a broken leg and my ongoing associate producer Alexandra Johnes, is just recovering from a fever that shattered every thermometer that tried to measure it. It’s not easy for mortals to reckon with the spirit of Gonzo.
Yet we have all survived and enjoyed every minute of the Doctor’s special treatment.
We had the run of the estate finding audiotapes, films, photographs, long forgotten drawings and even the 600 bars of Neutrogena soap from the Vegas trip. We talked to Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, George McGovern, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Wolfe, Jann Wenner and many more. We traveled from Atlanta to Woody Creek to Big Sur to Kent, England. We watched Anita, Thompson’s widow and Juan, his son fire his guns. We pursued Johnny Depp over four continents, marveled at rare unseen drawings from Hunter’s great collaborator, Ralph Steadman and ingested hundreds of milligrams of Ibogaine, a strange Congolese hallucinogen.
But the most satisfying part of the journey was through the words of the man – thousands of letters, his many articles, books and even unpublished manuscripts.
That’s what we brought back from our odyssey: a respect for why we all care about Hunter. He was a phenomenal writer who was funny as hell and who had a unique ability to embrace the central contradictions of the American character: an unquenchable idealism mixed with a vicious instinct for fear and loathing.
I can’t say what it was that I directed in this film. It feels like I was the one who was directed – in five directions at once – by the spirit of the Hydra-headed Hunter. What I can promise viewers is that this will be a full immersion experience that will reflect what I went through with my team. At this point, I’ve been going weird long enough to be considered a pro. Now it’s your turn: buy the ticket, take the ride.
About the Filmmaker
ALEX GIBNEY (Director, Writer, Producer)
Alex Gibney wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. His most recent film, Taxi to the Dark Side (ThinkFilm), a documentary murder mystery examining the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2008. Gibney is now at work on two other films: For Participant Productions, Magnolia Pictures and Reason Pictures, he is directing and writing Casino Jack, a look at lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the selling of the American government. For Optimum Releasing and Thinkfilm, he is directing and producing 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. He is also working on two fiction projects: a film (part documentary, part fiction) of My Trip to Al Qaeda, a play by Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, and he is writing a script based on David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest.
Gibney has another film at Sundance this year — the dramatic feature Love Comes Lately, which he executive produced.
Other films by Gibney include: No End in Sight (Executive Producer); Mr. Untouchable (Producer), Who Killed the Electric Car (Consulting Producer); The Trials of Henry Kissinger (Writer/Producer); Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (Producer); Lightning in a Bottle (Producer); Wim Wenders` Soul of a Man (Producer) and Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues (Producer).
List of Interview Subjects
Anita Thompson – Thompson’s second wife
Bob Braudis – Sheriff, Pitkin County (Aspen)
Charles Perry – Editor, Rolling Stone
Douglas Brinkley – Literary Executor, Hunter Thompson estate
Gary Hart – McGovern Campaign Manager
George McGovern – US Senator/Presidential Candidate
George Stranahan – Hunter’s friend and landlord
Jann Wenner – Co-Founder/Publisher, Rolling Stone
Jimmy Buffett – Songwriter
Jimmy Carter – United States President, 1976 – 1980
Juan Thompson – Thompson’s son (with Sandy Thompson)
Laila Nablusi – Producer, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Pat Buchanan – Nixon speechwriter
Pat Caddell – McGovern Campaign Pollster
Ralph Steadman – Artist/Illustrator
Sandy Thompson (now Sondi Wright) – Thompson’s first wife
Sonny Barger – 1965 Hell’s Angels President, Oakland Chapter
Timothy Crouse – Writer/Journalist, Author Boys on the Bus
Tom Wolfe – Writer/Journalist
About the Interviewees
Anita Thompson began working as Hunter’s assistant in 1999, and four years later they were married. She continues to work in Hunter’s stead on Owl Farm in the little town of Woody Creek outside Aspen, Colorado, publishing The Woody Creeker magazine. She is the author of The Gonzo Way, and is currently editing a book of Selected HST Interviews (to be released January 2009) while attending Columbia University in New York City.
A lifelong friend of Hunter, Bob Brandis has been the Sheriff of Colorado’s Pitkin County since 1986.
Dr. Douglas Brinkley currently serves as director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization and Professor of History at Tulane University. Four of Dr. Brinkley’s biographies have been selected as New York Times “Notable Books of the Year”: Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years (1992), Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal, with Townsend Hoopes (1992), The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House (1998), and Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress (2003). On the literature front, Dr. Brinkley has edited Jack Kerouac’s diaries, Hunter S. Thompson’s letters, and Theodore Dreiser’s travelogue. Dr. Brinkley is contributing editor for Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and American Heritage. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, and The Atlantic Monthly, he is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Century Club. In a recent profile the Chicago Tribune deemed him “America’s new past master.”
Gary Hart is a distinguished fellow of the New America Foundation, Wirth Chair professor at the University of Colorado, and chair both of the Council for a Livable World and the American Security Project. He formerly served as a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Colorado (1975–1987), chairman of George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, and ran in the U.S. presidential elections in 1984 and again in 1988, when he was considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Since retiring from the Senate, he has emerged as a consultant on national security, and continues to speak on a wide range of issues, including the environment and homeland security
George McGovern was a decorated B-24 bomber pilot during World War II and later taught American history. After serving as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was director of President Kennedy’s Food for Peace Program and helped to found the UN World Food Program. Elected to the Senate in 1962, McGovern became an outspoken critic of defense spending and was among the first senators to oppose the Vietnam War. In 1972, his grassroots presidential campaign won him the Democratic nomination. McGovern subsequently served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations under Presidents Ford and Carter. Under President Clinton, McGovern served as U.S. representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization. In 2001 he became the World Food Program’s first global ambassador on hunger. He has written War Against Want (1964), A Time of War, A Time of Peace (1968), The Great Coalfield War (1972), Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism (1996), The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time (2001), and The Essential America (2004).
George Stranahan is an educator, activist, and the owner of Flying Dog Brewery in Aspen, CO. After graduating from Caltech, Stranahan went on to earn a PhD in Physics from Carnegie Mellon University. He then served as a professor at Michigan State University for several years before permanently moving to Woody Creek, CO in 1972, a town he had been visiting and comfortable with since the mid-1950’s. In Woody Creek, Stranahan enjoyed a 40-year friendship with Hunter S. Thompson, with whom he shared such common interests as drinking, talking politics, guns, and noise. A lover of beer, he founded the Flying Dog brewpub in Aspen, which later evolved into the Flying Dog Brewery. Stranahan lives in Woody Creek.
Jann S. Wenner is the co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, as well as the owner of Men’s Journal and Us Weekly magazines. He was Hunter S. Thompson’s editor for thirty-five years. In the fall of 2007, Wenner published an oral biography of Hunter S. Thompson titled “Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson,” co-written with Corey Seymour.
Jimmy Buffett’s Caribbean-tinged single “Margaritaville” (1977) established him as a cheerful musical advocate for beaches, bars and laid-back living. He and his Coral Reefer band toured regularly throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the 21st century, playing to crowds of devoted fans. Buffett has released more than two dozen albums, including “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” (1973), “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” (1977), “Son of a Son of a Sailor” (1978) and “Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads” (1994). He also has had success as a writer of books, penning the memoir A Pirate Looks at Fifty (1998), the short story collection “Tales From Margaritaville” (1989) and the whimsical novel Where Is Joe Merchant? (1992).
Jimmy Carter was the thirty-ninth President of the United States from 1977 to 1981, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Prior to becoming President, Carter served two terms in the Georgia Senate, and was the 76th Governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. After leaving office, Carter founded an institute to promote global health, democracy and human rights. He has traveled extensively to monitor international elections, conduct peace negotiations and establish relief efforts. Carter has authored 27 books, most recently, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (2006).
Juan Thompson is an information technology manager and the son of Hunter S. Thompson. He, his wife Jennifer, and son William live in Denver, Colorado, where he is currently working on a memoir of his relationship with his father, to be published by Knopf in 2008. This past July he organized the first annual Hunter S. Thompson Literary Symposium at the Aspen Institute. He enjoys technology, marksmanship using large-caliber pistols and thick steel targets, and good books.
A famously outspoken conservative, Pat Buchanan was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and later served as communications director for President Ronald Reagan. In 1982, Buchanan began a long association with CNN as a political commentator. He ran for President in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Buchanan won the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1996, before losing the overall nomination to Bob Dole. In 2000, he broke from the Republican Party to run as the nominee for the Reform Party. Since then he has continued as an on-air commentator and syndicated columnist.
Ralph Steadman was born in 1936. He started as a cartoonist and through the years diversified into many fields of creativity. He has illustrated such classics as Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and Animal Farm. His own books include the lives of Sigmund Freud and Leonardo da Vinci and The Big I Am, the story of God. With Hunter S. Thompson, he collaborated in the birth of Gonzo journalism. He is also a printmaker. His prints include a series of etchings on writers from William Shakespeare to William Burroughs. In 1989, Steadman wrote the libretto for an eco-oratorio called “Plague and the Moonflower” which has been performed in five cathedrals in the UK and was the subject of a BBC 2 film in 1994. He has traveled the world’s vineyards and distilleries for Oddbins, which culminated in his two prize-winning books, The Grapes of Ralph and Still Life With Bottle. He has an Honorary D. Litt from the University of Kent.
Ralph Hubert “Sonny” Barger is a founding member in 1957 of the Oakland, California, U.S. chapter of Hells Angels. He is famed for his appearance in Hunter S. Thompson’s widely-read account of life within the club, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Sonny Barger is also the author of four books: Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, Freedom: Credos from the Road, Dead in 5 Heartbeats and 6 Chambers, 1 Bullet. He was editor for the book Ridin’ High, Livin’ Free. Barger has appeared as an extra in the films Hells Angels on Wheels and Hell’s Angels ’69. Barger is still an active member of the Hells Angels in the Cave Creek Chapter.
Timothy Crouse has been a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, and the Washington columnist for Esquire, writing numerous articles for these and other publications, including The New Yorker. He is the author of The Boys on the Bus, a classic account of the role of the press in presidential campaigns. With Luc Brébion he translated Roger Martin du Gard’s Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort (Knopf, 2000). His new version of Anything Goes, written with John Weidman, will be revived this year by the Roundabout Theater in New York. He is currently writing short stories, one of which, “Sphinxes,” was included in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2005.
Since the 1960s, American journalist Tom Wolfe has been one of the chief chroniclers of the times. Known for analyzing trends and exposing inherent cultural absurdities, Wolfe has coined terminology such as “radical chic” and “the Me decade.” Wolfe was one of the first in a cadre of writers—among them, Hunter Thompson —to adopt a style called the New Journalism. Some of his most famous works include The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby (1965), The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970). He was also applauded for his 1979 portrait of the early era of the American space program, The Right Stuff, and for his first novels Bonfire of the Vanities (1987). A Man in Full (1996), and I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004).
About the Producers
GRAYDON CARTER (Producer)
Graydon Carter has been editor of Vanity Fair since July 1992. He has won six National Magazine Awards, including two for general excellence for magazines with circulation of more than one million, the highest honor in magazine publishing.
Mr. Carter has been named Advertising Age’s editor of the year and is the first editor ever to be twice named Adweek magazine’s editor of the year. In 1999, the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism ranked Vanity Fair the top monthly magazine in America.
Prior to joining Vanity Fair, Mr. Carter was the editor of The New York Observer, which he completely revamped, making it the paper it is today. He came to The New York Observer from Spy, which he co-founded in 1986. During Mr. Carter’s five-year tenure as co-editor, Spy’s circulation increased six-fold and the magazine was nominated for two National Magazine Awards. He worked as a staff writer for Time, where he covered business, law, and entertainment for five years before joining Life as a staff writer in 1983.
Mr. Carter was an executive producer of 9/11, the highly acclaimed film by Jules and Gedeon Naudet about the World Trade Center attacks, which aired on CBS. Mr. Carter received an Emmy Award for 9/11 as well as a Peabody Award. He also produced the acclaimed documentary The Kid Stays In the Pictures, about the legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans, which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and opened in theaters in July 2002.
Mr. Carter is the author of What We’ve Lost, a comprehensive critical examination of the Bush administration. He edited the best-selling Vanity Fair’s Hollywood, an eye-catching, elegant coffee-table book that was five years in the making, as well as Oscar Night, a lavish photographic history of the exclusive Oscar parties held over the past 75 years.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Mr. Carter resides in Manhattan with his wife, Anna. He has four children.
JASON KLIOT & JOANA VICENTE (Producers)
Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente have produced over thirty films by such acclaimed directors as Stephen Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch and Miguel Arteta. They co-founded Open City Films twelve years ago as well as HDNet Films, Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s high-definition production studio. Kliot and Vicente’s films have garnered numerous awards, including an Oscar® nomination for their film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Their films have been selected for the Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Venice, and Toronto film festivals. In 2007, Kliot and Vicente were honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the Made in NY award for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the city’s entertainment industry.
Open City’s latest release, Awake, starring Jessica Alba and Hayden Christiansen, opened at #5 at the US box office. Also in development at Open City is David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, Nicole Holofcener’s Me, Too and James Lasdun’s Probate. With HDNet Films, Kliot and Vicente produced features and documentaries shot digitally, all distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Their most recent HDNet productions were accepted to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival: Quid Pro Quo starring Vera Farmiga and Nick Stahl and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a documentary narrated by Johnny Depp. Other past HDNet Films releases include Redacted, Bubble, Broken English, Fay Grim, and Diggers. Prior to HDNet, Kliot and Vicente founded the US’s first full-fledged digital production company, Blow Up Pictures, which enjoyed a successful run of low-budget digital films including Chuck & Buck, Lovely & Amazing, Series 7, and The Guys. All premiered at either the Sundance Film Festival or the Toronto Film festival and were distributed by Artisan, Lion’s Gate, and Focus Features, respectively.
EVA ORNER (Producer)
Eva is an Australian producer based in New York. Since relocating from Melbourne in 2004, Eva spent two years producing documentaries at Jigsaw Productions with Academy Award nominated director Alex Gibney. At Jigsaw, Eva produced the Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Sid, also the winner of best documentary at Tribeca, Chicago, Newport and Ojai Film Festivals and nominated for best documentary at the Gotham and IDA awards.
Other recent credits include producing The Human Behavior Experiments for the Sundance Channel and co-producing the feature documentary Herbie Hancock: Possibilities.
Eva’s Australian credits include producing the AFI award winning documentary Untold Desires, the feature film Josh Jarman and co-producing the feature film Strange Fits of Passion, which screened in “Un Certain Regard” at the Cannes International Film Festival. From 1998-2001 Eva was a Project Manager at the Australian Film Finance Corporation.
ALISON ELLWOOD (Editor & Producer)
Alison has been collaborating with director Alex Gibney since 2000. She edited and produced Gibney’s 2006 Oscar-nominated feature Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and is currently working with him on Casino Jack, a look at Jack Abramoff and the selling of the American government, for Participant Productions. Next up: she and Gibney will co-direct The 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, for Thinkfilm and Optimum Releasing. Alison’s other work includes producing Morgan Spurlock’s hit television show “30 Days,” for which she received a PGA Award, as well producing and editing R.J. Cutler’s Emmy Award-winning series “American High.”
Screen Story by
HUNTER S. THOMPSON
JASON KLIOT & JOANA VICENTE
ALISON ELLWOOD & EVA ORNER
TODD WAGNER & MARK CUBAN
ROY ACKERMAN & NICK FRASER
Director of Photography
DON FLEMING & SALIMAH EL-AMIN
Executive in Charge of Production
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Link to official site: http://www.huntersthompsonmovie.com/
Traces Dr. Thompson’s life from his travels with the Hell’s Angels, through his various Wild Turkey & drug ingested episodes in politics and righting the wrongs of society.