Out With a Bang

Hunter S. Thompson’s hatred for Nixon was well known, but his dealings with and regard for Patrick Buchanan—staunch conservative, Nixon’s special consultant, and White House speechwriter in the late sixties and throughout all of the Watergate affair—were productive and far healthier. When Thompson approached him to write a piece on the future of American conservatism for Rolling Stone, citing his own “twisted sympathy” for Pat’s personal stance during Watergate (“if only because,” Thompson went on to say, “of what strikes me as [your] basic integrity, along with a stylistic brutality that I can appreciate”), Buchanan accepted, and replying in kind joked: “Tell your liberal friends we expect to be treated with all the deference and respect as outlined in the Geneva Conventions on the handling of prisoners of war.” Clearly the two enjoyed a great rapport with mutual trust.

In his final appearance in Alex Gibney's super documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Buchanan is, alas, accepted and rejected as a “half crazed Davie Crockett” character (as Hunter once described him)—accepted, that is, by filmmaker, and rejected (on the same terms) by audiences who never get to see the man Hunter knew. But his scene is, for me, the defining moment in the film, for it exceeds its pertinence and applicability in every regard. Speaking highly of Hunter’s promise in a soundbite that seems (more than anything) to actually bemoan his egotism, Pat’s interview is interrupted by the roar of a motorcycle engine in the street outside, forcing the production crew and Pat to stop until its fade out on the soundtrack. Glancing over at Gibney, Pat laughs, “that’s fitting!,” a joke which gestures as much towards Hunter's time with the Hell's Angels as it does to his early years as the Outlaw biker of Big Sur. The shattered, indispensable moment recalls the best of Herzog: a world that cannot be tamed, unleashed in all of its exquisite mystery. A phantom of Hunter’s world, indeed Hunter as phantom, undoing the sanctity of modern, American conservatism.
12 December, 2009


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