Text-to-Screen News: HST Returns to Cinema

May 6, 2010

Hunter S. Thompson at a "Free Lisl" rally in Denver, 2001.

As anyone who has even a passing familiarity with me knows, I love Hunter S. Thompson. I’ve read the great majority of his books, I’ve dressed as him on three Halloweens, I can quote him at will, have a font of trivia at my disposal and do more than a passing impression. The reasons why I love the Good Doctor are long and detailed and far more impassioned than that I simply like yelling about golf shoes in hotel bars, but will have to wait for another time. I mention this now because an interesting bit of Thompson-related news came out on Sunday, and I feel it’s important to cast light on potential bias before discussion.

As the Hollywood Reporter noted on Sunday and which I heard about through The A.V. Club, the Motion Picture Corporation of America has optioned “Prisoner of Denver,” an article Thompson wrote for Vanity Fair in 2004 in collaboration with contributing editor Mark Seal. The article concerns the imprisonment of Lisl Auman, a 21-year-old who was charged with murder despite already being in police custody when the crime occurred – an accomplice who committed suicide did the actual shooting. Thompson became pen pals with Auman and took up the fight for her freedom, rallying several of his celebrity friends to the cause to help earn her release in 2005.

“It is not in my nature to be polite to people who want to hurt me, or to turn my back on a woman who is being brutally raped right in front of my eyes, especially when the rapists are wearing big guns and Denver Police Department badges. And that is why I am telling you this disgusting story about how notoriously vicious cops buried a provably innocent young woman in a tiny cell in the concrete bowels of a Colorado state prison for the rest of her life with no possibility of parole. That is a death sentence, pure and simple, and those rotten, murdering bastards are still proud of it. Proud. Remember that word, because it is going to come back and haunt every one of those swine. The Lisl Auman scandal will whack the Denver law-enforcement establishment like Watergate whacked Richard Nixon.”
– “Prisoner of Denver,” Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, 2004

I have not read “Prisoner of Denver” myself as it has yet to make it into a Thompson compilation, and a cursory search couldn’t yield a link on Vanity Fair‘s website or any other site (though the first few paragraphs can be read here), so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s an article that deserves filming. What I will say though is that it opens up room to portray an aspect of Thompson many people overlook. Despite making a career chronicling “the death of the American Dream,” Thompson loved America fiercely, and in his later years perceived violations of her principles sent his fighting spirit into overdrive. “Songs of the Doomed” depicts an excellent example of this, chronicling Thompson’s arrest for sexual assault and drug possession which he soon turned into an assault on his Fourth Amendment rights.

As Ralph Steadman put it, “he felt this deep outrage, because someone was fucking with his beloved Constitution,” and that’s an attitude I think would be good to see on screen to clear up the image of drugs and hyperbole that too often colors Thompson’s public image. Plus, the Doctor as aged patriot might make a great excuse for Bill Murray to step back into the role.

That said, I’m not approaching the release with wide eyes. I think The A.V. Club makes a legitimate point about how it has the potential to be somewhat mawkish, considering Thompson has been dead for five years now and not around to make sure the swine keep him in the right light. Plus, according to the Hollywood Reporter, MPCA are looking for screenwriters “with a focus on Thompson and Seal acting as a couple of gonzo Woodward and Bernsteins,” and that phrase just makes the bile rise in my stomach. Few things do more damage to the Doctor’s reputation than shoddy imitators.

Of course, given that the film adaptation of “The Rum Diary” languished in development hell for a decade and Thompson’s third collection of letters “The Mutineer” delays its release date more than its author did turning in articles, I don’t expect to hear too much out of this project for at least a year or two. A close eye will of course be maintained on proceedings, to see if the eventual ride is worth the ticket price.

(As an aside, the article also states that the long-delayed “Rum Diary” film will be seeing release in September, a fact confirmed by IMDB and Wikipedia. I’m an eternal cynic on this film making it to the big screen, given that two incarnations were killed in development, but it’s more concrete than anything I’ve heard in years. Show me a trailer, then we’ll talk more.)

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Links of Literacy – May 27, 2009

May 28, 2009

Another week, another five snippets of literary news to be shared with the masses.

1. Put the book back on the shelf: 13 book-to-film adaptions that the authors hated, by Josh Modell, Keith Phipps, Leonard Pierce, Nathan Rabin, Scott Gordon, Scott Tobias, Tasha Robinson, and Zack Handlen; The Onion, May 26, 2009

A piece by the marvelously talented team at the Onion A.V. Club, I enjoy it because it touches on the negative side of film adaptations, one of my pet interests. It’s hard enough to please the fans of a book, I can’t imagine authors are any easier to work with. I was surprised to see Ken Kesey or Anthony Burgess didn’t make the list, but that just frees me up to spend more time on them in my upcoming Text-to-Screen Ratio: Retrospectives.

2. Then and Now: Robert Downey Jr. brings a new look to Sherlock Holmes, Jonathan Crow, Yahoo! Movies, May 20, 2009

pseudoblog_sherlockholmes425aAnother post on the topic of film adaptations, but this one even dearer to my heart since it deals with probably my favorite character in literature: Sherlock Holmes. I’m approaching this adaptation very cautiously, as while I love both Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. I’m very skeptical of a film that appears to have a steampunk Holmes channeling Jack Sparrow to fight vampires. Yes, it sounds awesome, but so apart from the Holmes I know and love I don’t know what affection I can give it. I do like the article’s points on how it might gel with the more “Bohemian” perspective of Holmes, but I shall remain a skeptic.

3. Small sf press rallies despite recession, Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, May 25, 2009.

This one’s not exactly a major news article, but it cheers me up for the soft spot I have for independent presses. It’s a bad climate for publishing (as my recent unemployment from a project management position at Macmillan can attest to) but some people are stillgoing forward and I’m happy for them.

4. Worried book industry gathers for convention, Hillel Italie, Associated Press, May 26, 2009.

And here we of course have the sign of dark clouds unable to be banished from the industry. I will not be attending this convention as I am nowhere near important enough to warrant an invitation,  but I shall keep my eyes on what comes out of the area and keep you posted.

5. 1984: The masterpiece that killed George Orwell, Robert McCrumb, The Observer, May 10, 2o09

Something for the academics of my reader base, a stunning article on just how much “1984” killed its author. It’s certainly not an unheard of occurrence for a writer’s masterpiece to devour its composer (Truman Capote comes to mind after “In Cold Blood”) but “1984” is rarely thought of in that light.