Anyone who has had the displeasure of reading my work or speaking to me in person should know by now about my love for the work of Hunter S. Thompson. The man was a defining figure of journalism, a talented writer ruined by an image he created. A decade where the man was on top, a verbal menace and talented fly-on-the-wall who profiled the Hell’s Angels, and then shot himself to notoriety with his unique, Gonzo style. Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride is the first of many Thompson documentaries to release after his passing in 2005, and it feels like one of the few to give a rounded account of his life and his work.
His furious rage and articulate brilliance that he captured in his articles is thrown into the documentary too. It hits all the marks you’d expect a documentary about Thompson to touch on, the meeting with illustrator Ralph Steadman, the Kentucky Derby, the fear and the loathing, and the fallout that followed his Gonzo way of life. Eventually, though, we follow our way into discussing Johnny Depp’s adaptation of Hunter’s greatest work. It was an inevitability of the documentary. The adaptations of his work that followed Thompson’s publications are shown to establish him as a pop culture icon, and there are brief moments that imply this stardom is the beginning of his spiral into a decadency and depraved natures he himself mocked only a few years before.
Crucially, though, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride offers a glimpse into a personal side of Thompson. We’re given access to the intricacies of his life, his home at Woody Creek, and the friends he surrounded himself with. It draws up the relatively interesting comparisons between how Hunter portrayed himself publicly, and how he entertained his friends in private. What this documentary wishes to make clear is that the huge profile Thompson collated for himself of fictional characters, is, for the most part, just that. Fiction. It clearly impacted his later life, warping his mind into caricatures of his best creations, but the talking heads throughout are very keen to admit that, in private, he was nothing like his forced, cult-like identity.
The only documentary I’m aware of that profiles the entire life of Hunter Thompson, and not just the grisly best bits, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride is an oddly intimate approach to a man defined by his larger-than-life style. It makes sweeping statements, offering up little in the way of incredible insightfulness, but its running time knows this and it’s a solid salute to the work of Mr. Gonzo. Straightforward enough to show us the naked facts, but it’s a poor choice to go with a straight-cut documentary, rather than one as eccentric and out there as its subject.