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Breakfast with Hunter (July 21/04)

It's really a testament to Hunter S. Thompson's wildly entertaining personality that one doesn't necessarily have to be familiar with his work to enjoy this documentary, in which director Wayne Ewing seems to have been granted total access into the legendary journalist's life. Breakfast with Hunter doesn't follow any kind of traditional documentary structure, with Ewing instead choosing to echo Thompson's notoriously rambling style (a choice that quickly proves to be extremely effective).

Breakfast with Hunter appears to cover the most notable occurrences in Thompson's life over the space of a few years in the late '90s, including his efforts to avoid jail time over a drunken driving charge and the struggle to get a filmed adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas off the ground. It becomes clear almost immediately that Thompson feels entirely comfortable being followed around by Ewing's camera, affording the film a fly-on-the-wall sort of vibe.

The film features appearances by a lot of familiar faces - including Benicio Del Toro, John Cusack, and writer P.J. O'Rourke - though it's Thompson's relationship with Johnny Depp that receives the most screentime. The friendship between the two appears to have existed years before the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas film was made, and it's clear that - to a certain extent - Depp idolizes Thompson. In one of the more oddball moments in the movie, Thompson agrees to teach Depp's bird how to speak - resulting in a sequence that finds Thompson chasing around the bird and finally catching it, much to the delight and amusement of Depp.

But without a doubt, the highlight of Breakfast with Hunter comes about midway through the film - as director Alex Cox takes a meeting with Thompson to discuss his adaptation of Fear and Loathing. Though things start off amiably enough, the encounter gradually becomes uglier and uglier - set off by Cox's announcement that he plans to animate some of the more off-the-wall sequences in the book. Unfortunately for Cox, Thompson has a vehement hatred of cartoons and immediately takes offense to the idea. Despite Cox's best assurances that the use of animation would be respectful and appropriate, Thompson refuses to be placated - eventually kicking the director out of his house. It's an undeniably fascinating sequence, and certainly explains a lot about Thompson's warped world-view (when asked if he disliked cartoons as a kid, Thompson acknowledges he's always hated them).

If there's a flaw to the film, it's Ewing's reluctance to press Thompson on the details of his past - resulting in a documentary that's admittedly extremely entertaining, but not entirely informative. Still, Breakfast with Hunter should be commended for appealing to fans and neophytes alike - no small feat, given the specific nature of Thompson's audience.

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About the DVD: The filmmakers are distributing the DVD of Breakfast with Hunter independently, which can be ordered by clicking the link on the right. It's packed with bonus features, including a commentary track with Ewing and Thompson (though Thompson doesn't stick around for the whole thing), and is well worth picking up.
© David Nusair