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HST's Friends

Breakfast with Hunter

Page added 02-Oct-03
Last updated Winter 2006

by Christine O

Note: You can buy Wayne Ewing's follow-up film, When I Die from www.breakfastwithhunter.com.

While my hometown is known as The Festival City during the summer, Cowtown usually gets its act together in the fall. There are two (and, well, pretty much two) main events that go on, the Calgary Film Festival and WordFest.

It was my good fortune that my good friend Don left a message on my answering machine. Eek! I had no idea Breakfast with Hunter was playing.

I met up with Bud at a C-Train station and we headed downtown. I was pretty excited but pretty exhausted after being in art class all day. I can't remember the last time I was downtown this late at night - but it was years ago. We ate at Moxie's on 7th Avenue, rushed dessert and scarpered over to the Uptown Stage and Screen.

We arrived before 9pm; the movie was due to start at 9:30. A small line up of general admission folks were lined up. We stood in front of a tense looking man wearing a brown courderoy jacket who clutched his elbows a lot. Behind us was a thin looking fellow with his girlfriend. He had a grin pin on his jean jacket that said "I (heart) Mary Jane". His girlfriend quietly said that she didn't know if she would like this movie. A Volkswagen rep handed out "street mix" CDs as glamorous looking people with VIP passes around their necks filed out.

It took forever for the doors to open. It was a good thing that it was a mild night. The Uptown Stage and Screen is a somewhat historic theatre. It sits in the Barron Building, a rare example of some design school* that was popular long ago. Unlike so much of Cowtown's history, the Barron Building has not been demolished and the theatre has been maintained. The theatre is unlike any present day cinema. It is alien with hard wooden seats, a grand staircase and theatre floors that slope downward instead of upward. Plush gold curtains hang attentively at the sides of the screen. This is the real thing, baby.

We pick good seats and I tick off a few notes in my faithful PDA, trying to hide its beacon glare from everyone. Even the dimmest setting is bright enough to get a ship safely into a foggy port.

A film fest fellow named Ben introduces the movie. There is some hooting. Even better, the director, Wayne Ewing is present. He makes a small speech and the film is dedicated to George Plimpton, who had passed away two days earlier. There was more hooting as the lights dimmed and the movie started. I put the PDA away and settled back.

Breakfast with Hunter is the dream of every gonzo fan. It is 91 minutes of pure fun spanning from 1996-1998. I couldn't help smiling to myself a lot. It was awesome to see all the events from those years - a seemingly endless wave of gonzo news and happenings. All the things that I had only read about - HST's appearance at The Viper Room with John Cusack reading his letters, his DUI charges from 1996, the Louisville Homecoming, the 25th anniversary of FLLV...the filming of FLLV...HST's fallout with Alex Cox and Todd Davies, George McGovern's 75th birthday party. All these things I had read about and clipped out of magazines were suddenly 20 feet high in front of me. And it was great.

The best part of the movie was about halfway through, when Alex Cox and Todd Davies visit Owl Farm. The pair, as gonzo fans may recall, were originally slated to adapt the book. Although the visit started out well, they irritated HST considerably. For example, Alex Cox is a vegetarian and passed on HST's offer of deer sausage. Things took a turn for the worse as they tried to explain to HST how they wanted to animate the passage about the high watermark. HST is pretty adamant that he's not going to have any "fucking cartoons" in the movie. Todd Davies (who is a woman, btw) gamely tries to explain how when the water washes away, all that is left are "remains". An exasperated Cox asks Hunter if he knows what cartoons are and things get ugly and loud after that. The two writers walk out.

Other highlights include:

- Thames television footage of HST during his 1970 bid for sheriff. The incumbent, Carol Whitmer, is quoted as saying if HST is voted in, "there'll be murders!"

- Ralph Steadman talking about "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" as well as drawing sketches of courtroom activities. In 1996 HST was pulled over for an alleged DUI after returning from a local political rally (IIRC - I remember it used to be on AspenOnline. It resulted in an agreement called "The Sharp Necklace").

- Prior to the party for FLLV's 25th anniversary, HST enters the offices of Rolling Stone to present Jann Wenner with some big white lilies; along the way he spots a fire extinguisher in the hallway and can't resist picking it up. He blasts the secretary, then Wenner in his office.

- HST looking at cover photos for The Proud Highway and booksigning at Book Soup.

- assorted clips from the Louisville Homecoming that includes Warren Zevon, Juan Thompson reading some kind words about his father and Roxanne Pulitzer reading the ending of "A Dog Took My Place". Appropriately enough, someone dropped their glass in the theater when she said "beastiality" really loud ;-)

- Johnny Depp and HST shooting some high powered guns.

- HST waiting to make his cameo appearance in the movie. He has to wait eight hours and is a little off the mark when he tries to toss and catch his bottle of whiskey.

- the end of the film features footage of HST in Florida, steering a powerboat among a pod of dolphins that was shot back in 1985.

When the lights came back on, I was positively giddy. I was very pleased with the film and that there was no narration, only a few titles to guide the audience along. It seemed as if a very loving hand had been applied to all the segments - I have to admit that most times it seems like folks are making fun of HST (like the last Conan O'Brien appearance) and can't treat him in a serious vein.

Mr. Ewing was brought back at the end to answer questions. Bud kept nudging me, but I honestly couldn't think of anything. Happily, the crowd had some pretty good questions. One person at the back asked if Hunter was an alcoholic, to which Mr. Ewing replied "Well, he's a functional alcoholic." Another person inquired about HST's health; Mr. Ewing recalled how he met HST's mother at the Louisville homecoming. Even though she was 90 and in a wheelchair, she still held a gin and tonic.

A total of 290 hours of footage had been filmed of Hunter; Mr. Ewing found time to edit the film while recovering from a broken leg. Although the footage used was shot in digital format, the final print cost $25,000 to make. Royalties for the songs included also cost quite a bit.

As we waited to exit the theatre for the midnight showing that had been added, a girl dressed in black ahead of me groaned to her friend: "That film makes me feel like drinking and having sex now." I tried not to laugh too loud.

When I returned from the washroom, Bud looked kind of mischievious. "The director! He walked right by. Do you want to go meet him?" It took a lot of encouraging from Bud and a lot of stalling from me ("ooh! look at that retro couch!") but we went up the grand staircase and ventured into the red glow of the Kaboom Room.

I lost my fear and we chatted for five or so minutes. Mr. Ewing told me all about the website, and in turn, he seemed pleasantly surprised to find out that it was me who maintains The Great Thompson Hunt. His favourite part of the site is HST's Lady Friends :-D He told me about the planned DVD and that it would be ready by Christmas, hopefully. I thanked Mr. Ewing for making such a great film.

It was truly a night to remember - I was hopping up and down on the C-train platform as we waited for a northeast train. It had been months since I was this happy - the hiring drive going on at work for the past two months has sapped so much out of me. But I was reminded why HST calls himself the Champion of Fun - life isn't worth living if you can't have a good time :-)

Blurb from the film festival guide:

Breakfast with Hunter follows the attempts of pop culture icon Hunter S. Thompson in getting his most famous novel, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", from the pages onto the big screeen. Wayne Ewing, a neighbour and friend of Thompson's is allowed unfettered access to the notoriously unpredictable journalist, political activist and gun lover.

Compiling an unprecedented amount of candid footage, Ewing offers the viewers a fly on the wall perspective into the life of the reclusive father of gonzo journalism. Interweaving Thompson's unsuccessful run for political office in the conservative enclave of Aspen, Colorado, with encounters with Johnny Depp, John Cusack, George Plimpton, and PJ O'Rourke, Breakfast with Hunter is a snapshot into the mind of a genuine literary maverick. The Hollywood Reporter says Breakfast with Hunter is "an intimate verite portrait that honours its subject with fierce affection and respect."

* Art Deco, apparently