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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Book Review: Dumbocracy

November 19, 2008

Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots

dumbocracyBy Marty Beckerman

Published September 1, 2008

The Disinformation Company

224 pp.

ISBN 1-934-70806-2

Reviewed November 17, 2008

Unless you have been living in a commune for the blind/deaf/mute with neither basic cable nor Internet access, you know that America recently concluded the most excruciating presidential election in its history. It was a novel-worthy affair loaded with grand promises, ancient history and truly absurd moments – Hillary Clinton’s sniper snafu and Sarah Palin’s shopping spree are personal favorites – but regularly distinguished by an extremist tone. Barack Obama painted the Republicans as irrevocably shackled to the single-minded Bush doctrine, while John McCain’s campaign came just short of calling Obama a pinko commie.

This is nothing new in the political climate, but it’s yet another reflection of the fact that our society loves to split itself apart. Left and right, red and blue – all with an “I’m better than you are” attitude disguising the fact that in virtually all cases they’re not. Few books illustrate this as well as Marty Beckerman’s “Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots,” a breath of fresh air to clear out some of the smoke regularly blown up our asses.

In the spirit of gonzo journalism, Beckerman inserts himself directly into the poles of America. He walks through the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. to confront marchers and protestors, watches right-wing preachers on New York streets before ducking into a gay bar, receives placid stares from college kids who support Palestine and weathers “righteous” indignation at a conservative conference. He looks at the effort to regulate our vices – pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, fast food and alcohol – and takes a trip to Jerusalem in an effort to understand what makes believers tick.

With an introduction titled “Douche Bag Nation,” “Dumbocracy” makes it clear from the start this search takes neither sides nor prisoners. Beckerman argues that the majority of those who hold zealous views on a subject turn out to be selfish morons, using both the implausibility of their arguments and the bile of their tone to leave readers wishing he’d made these points up. Magazine editors, talk show hosts, student activists and government officials are all seen taking matters into their own hands, and the resulting emotion is a desire to slap those hands with a ruler.

Its direct tone may make “Dumbocracy” appear little more than a diatribe against die-hards, but Beckerman gets past the jingoism of his subjects with two strengths. First is impressive research – he cites dozens of books, articles, interviews and broadcasts, from sources ranging from Fox News to “Fast Food Nation.” The research mostly serves to prove his point rather than open up debate, but it proves he’s not basing his point on isolated incidents the way his subjects do.

His second strength is his “smartass pipsqueak Jew” personality, which is refreshingly amusing when placed next to narrow-minded zealots. He regularly poses direct questions to his subjects but never attacks their beliefs, only offering a rational point that causes a fuse to pop in their heads when they see their rhetoric ignored. And while the writing does try too hard in some places – particularly with sarcastic replies interjecting fact lists – it’s never in a manner too grating to remove observer status or earn him a punch in the face.

Additional gonzo credit is also awarded for a drunken postscript to the prohibition section and downing hallucinogenic liquor during his Jerusalem visit.

To paraphrase Voltaire, Beckerman’s argument can be boiled into: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to call you a jackass for saying it.” And that’s an argument desperately needed in today’s partisan culture, one that points out the common denominator of extreme left and extreme right is being extremely wrong. “Dumbocracy” is a compelling case for being a moderate in today’s world, and yet another reason to hope our new president means what he says about restoring America’s common purpose.

(Political disclaimer: The political beliefs of the reviewer played no role in the above article, and the review was based solely on quality of writing, depth of research and author arguments.)