Wayne Ewing producer, director and cinematographer probably needs no introduction in the HST world. He is the man behind Breakfast with Hunter, When I Die and Free Lisl; Fear and Loathing in Denver. All must sees for any fan of the good Doctor.
Wayne on The Separation of Hunter and Raoul.
Wayne Ewing. Hunter and the Beast.
“He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man,” Dr. Johnson
This epigram about drinking opens Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It took many years of hanging out with Hunter for me to truly understand Samuel Johnson’s observation. Since I have been called “Hunter’s Boswell” by William McKeen, perhaps it’s only appropriate that I use this quote from Boswell’s subject, Dr. Johnson, to dispel a myth about Dr. Thompson.
The myth is that there were two Hunter’s – one, the talented writer, and, two, the drunken Raoul Duke, the alter ego he created for Fear and Lathing that began to take over his personality in real life. This myth was first perpetrated by Hunter in the 1978 BBC documentary Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood, and then amplified by Alex Gibney in Gonzo, using clips from the BBC film and an interview with Hunter’s first wife Sandy.
The fact is Hunter was both a heavily drinking drug user and a great writer, just not necessarily at the same time. This pattern began early in life, during his teenage years when he was “the Billy the Kid of Louisville” as he says in my film Breakfast with Hunter. Between robbing liquor stores, he still managed to write some very good prose for his high school literary group – The Athenaeum Society.
Raoul Duke is just an exaggerated extension of Louisville’s Billy the Kid, so named because Hunter truly feared retribution for such admitted excess. For the same reason, he tried to mask the identity of Oscar Acosta – an attorney who risked disbarment – as “Dr. Gonzo” and was shocked when Oscar insisted on having his real name mentioned on the back of the book with the famous picture of them in a casino lounge.
The wild, unexpected success of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas gave Hunter a sense of immunity for his excesses since they were now celebrated in the popular culture and rewarded with further book contracts and magazine assignments. Then the myth began to merge with reality as increasing heavy drinking and drugging kept Hunter from writing. The two habits – writing and intoxication – had always co-existed, but by the late seventies success had lead to more wild turkey than daring insights, and by the end of his life the drugs and the drink had all but killed the writer in him.
The interesting question to me was what compelled the man to make a beast of himself. Johnson’s “pain of being a man.” Was clearly the answer, as Hunter indicates by giving that quote first before all the madness of Vegas. But what is that pain, and how did drinking and drugs lessen it?
What I learned over the years was that the truth is painful, and Hunter had an unnerving ability to see the inner truth in any situation – whether it was the death of the American Dream in the excess of Las Vegas, or the effect of 911 on this country thirty years later. To know that patriotism would be turned into a means of oppression, a reason to kill hundreds of thousands, and trample the constitution was not a pretty vision, yet Hunter saw that almost instantly as the planes hit the towers. Then he wrote about it in his sports column, and kept on drinking until he became the Beast Who Knows No Pain.
Copyright 2009 By Wayne Ewing
Wayne’s site is at http://www.hunterthompsonfilms.com/
You can buy Breakfast with Hunter, When I Die and Free Lisl from Wayne’s site. You’ll also find a wealth of stuff there including videos, reviews, fourms and a lot more. Also go to Wayne’s Vodcast athttp://hunterthompsonfilms.com/vodcast/ where you’ll find some great stories and footage of HST.