In the opening scene of Animals, Whores, And Dialogue we find Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in his favorite spot, seated behind an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter, in his kitchen. As he scrolls in the white piece of paper he looks at it and states, “The blank page, the curse of the writing class.” Then he laughingly adds the kicker, “There is no writing class.”
This indelible moment is one of many contained in the new DVD, a sequel to Breakfast With Hunter (2003). Filmmaker Wayne Ewing was allowed unprecedented access to Thompson beginning in the late eighties, when he began filming for a proposed Frontline documentary. The TV show never happened, but the friendship Ewing developed with Hunter was invaluable. Thompson seemed to trust Ewing, and allowed his cameras full entrée into the writer’s world for years to come.
The initial result of all this footage was Breakfast With Hunter. Ewing captured Thompson at loads of tribute events and such, and the film is filled with celebrities praising his work. There were also some classic Gonzo moments, like when he drunkenly burned his Christmas tree in the fireplace, or sprayed Jann Wenner with a fire extinguisher.
The one thing the first film lacked however, was much about Hunter S. Thompson the writer. For that reason, I find Animals, Whores, And Dialogue to be even more compelling. The title comes from a note taped to the top of Hunter’s typewriter, which apparently served as an ongoing inspiration for his writing.
The film opens with Hunter starting work on his latest article for “Hey Rube,” his weekly column on ESPN.com. He has no idea what it will be about, but knows the process better than anyone. He pours a drink, lights up, and starts bouncing things off the walls to those around him. Naturally, he dismisses any of the feedback. The phone rings incessantly, and the whole atmosphere is mildly chaotic. This is how the man wrote, and it is a fascinating glimpse into a very private world.
Ewing uses these scenes as the core of his movie, and fleshes them out with previously unseen interviews and footage. There are some great moments that never made it to the first movie. One of these occurs when he is presented with an original copy of the June 1970 issue of Scanlans Monthly magazine. This issue contains “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved,” his first piece of gonzo journalism.
“This is when I figured my writing career was over, that I had fucked up once too often” he says, “Then we got all these calls and mails saying it was the greatest thing since the printing press.“ This leads to a discussion of writing itself. “Anything else I did in my life, I was punished for,” says Hunter. “When I worked at writing, I was praised.”
Another memorable highlight is an interview shot in 2001, on the day of George W. Bush’s inauguration. This seems to be an impromptu situation, they are at the local bar, and Hunter is asked about Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail. Nixon seems to be a perennially favorite topic for Thompson, and he speaks about him at length, concluding with “The man was pure evil.”
If there was any criticism of Breakfast With Hunter it was the fact that the movie was filled with celebrities praising him. In fact, it almost seemed like an attempt to bolster his credibility as a (then) living legend. There is very little of that in the new movie. Some do appear, including George Plimpton, Jann Wenner, and Warren Zevon, but the tone is much more contemplative this time around.
The film returns to Hunter behind the typewriter, again and again. He seems to be making very little progress, but he never really gets frustrated. At one point he even takes a call from Warren Zevon, and asks if the singer can find him some hashish. We never see him complete the article, in fact he barely starts it. But it sure is great to be a fly on the wall as he begins working on it.
In the closing scene, the tables are turned somewhat as we get a Hunter’s eye-view of his first posthumous birthday party. When a small group gather at the house, Ewing shoots the event from Hunter’s kitchen chair. It is a little spooky to see things from that point of view, and a great way to end the film. While the typewriter may be silent now, the writing and memories of Hunter S. Thompson live on.
Animals, Whores, And Dialogue is obviously intended for the serious HST fan, and Ewing has done an outstanding job with it. The inspiration to focus on him in the process of actually writing was genius. And there was one thing he said during an interview that really seemed to sum up his whole philosophy. When talking about writing, and life in general, Hunter states, “I figured out what you have to do in this world — to be able to do one thing better than anybody else, no matter what it is. Find it.”
Beyond all of the hoopla that surrounded the man’s life, the drugs, the alcohol, and everything else there is one thing that comes through more clearly than ever. Hunter S. Thompson was a writer first, and the all the other stuff was secondary. This film shows that side of him more completely than anything other than his actual books ever have, and is recommended for all HST fans.
The DVD can be bought at the Hunter Thompson Films website.