13 August 2012

Birth Of A Hunter

Drinking has never been something I've been particularly fucked about. I'm not exactly tea-total but I can happily go a few months without touching alcohol. That's not to say I can't see the benefits of going out and getting a little wankered now and again. If it wasn't for that liquid brain-breaker, I wouldn't have had so much fun puking in people's homes, flipping mates over in locked portaloos or having a young girl wrongly accuse me of rape. I say wrongly because despite that pissed tart's slanderous accusations, the closest I came to sex that night was pissing up against the same bin as a mate. As far as I'm concerned we didn't maintain eye contact whilst slashing so that's not even half a notch on the bed post.

Booze for me is simply an expensive way of making shitty night clubs tolerable. For others though it's a way of life with underage kids practically frothing in their knickers at the prospect of purchasing a two litre bottle of cheap cider. Whilst they were doing that, I'd however be venting my rebellious teenage urges by wanking furiously and buying 18-rated DVD's. The very first movie I managed to buy whilst still too young was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and it blew my sober teen mind. I loved every second of it and by the time the credits begun to roll, I was a huge fan of it's original author, Hunter S. Thompson. In fact there was one summer shortly after where I think I convinced myself I was actually him. I'd walk around in a Hawaiian shirt with large sunglasses stopping only to loudly mumble “Look, there's two women fucking a polar bear!” or “We can't stop here, this is bat country”. Sure that makes me sound like a tit, but fuck you. If emo's are allowed to wear black and cut themselves than why shouldn't I pretend to be a sixty year old junkie? That's not weird is it?

The Rum Diary therefore had a lot of expectations from me. Not only was it based on another book by Thompson but it had Depp reprising his role as the gonzo nutcase. Even more excitingly however was that it was also to be written and directed by Bruce Robinson. For anybody who was ever male, British and a student, his Withnail and I is a film held in higher regard than the bible. Sure that religious book of bollocks might have inspired a larger cult following but does it feature Richard E Grant downing lighter fluid and then manically asking, “Do we have some more?” I can't say I've read it properly but unless that scene is hidden somewhere between the homophobia and the anti-science crap, I don't think it does. Plus what drinking games could you make with the Bible that could compare to the classic one of keeping up with Withnail himself? I suppose you could down a shot every time you read a line of bullshit but at that rate you'd be unconscious before Eve munched down on her forbidden Granny Smith. Also when did Snakes stop speaking our language by the way? Either that's a plot hole or both Adam and Eve spoke Parseltongue. If there are any religious folks still here then let me know! Either way maybe you should read your own crap properly before you condemn Harry Potter for it's pagan propaganda.

For some reason, The Rum Diary took forever to arrive on our cinema screens which just built up the anticipation for it. When they started filming in 2009 I was a young student, unable to grow a beard and full of optimism. By the time of it's release in 2011, I was dancing between menial jobs and unemployment with my youthful optimism having been shagged into the grave by broken promises, sexual trauma and the depressing realism of life. All that change and I still can't grow a fucking beard. Luckily however I am still a fan of Hunter Thompson or at least the legacy he's left behind. I'm sure that in reality he wasn't quite as erratic as Raoul Duke or any of the other personas he presented us with but the myth of who he was still allures.

Thompson committed suicide in 2005 after spending his life causing trouble for those figures generally in politics that he considered to be bastards. The biggest of those bastards must surely of course be Nixon. In fact it was allegedly his hatred of Tricky Dick that dragged him into politics and made him so prolific as a political writer. What's endearing to know is that the venom that spewed out from Thompson's typewriter continued regardless of the circumstance. After Nixon's death and during Thompson's obituary for him, he wrote things such as, “He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president” and “He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.” I guess my point here is that although the legend of who Hunter S might slightly cloud the truth, the onscreen depictions can't be too far from fact. He certainly wasn't a man afraid of saying what he thought or doing what he pleased. Kind of like Paris Hilton but with substance and relevance to humanity.

After such a long wait I finally managed to watch The Rum Diary last night and am relieved to say that I loved it. It's not as funny as Withnail and I or rapidly anarchistic as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but I liked that. The Rum Diary has sought after it's own identity so that it can exist as it's own entity and not simply a companion piece to those two other cult classics. Where Gilliam's 1998 adaptation zips along on a cloud of drugs and schizophrenia, this film is much slower, more relaxed and thoughtful. I know this is about a man called Paul Kemp and not Raul Duke or Hunter Thompson but lets face it they're all variations of the same persona.

Despite being filmed a decade after the 70's set Fear and Loathing, The Rum Diary actually takes place in the late 50's. Casting Depp was therefore imperative not only because he'd played the man before but because he's one of the few humans who looks younger as each year goes by. I'm pretty sure that the ageless fucker was actually the inspiration for Benjamin Button. I'm also genuinely thinking of tracking Depp down and eating him like he's a fucking chicken nugget. I'm not into voodoo or any shit like that but I'm convinced that devouring the flesh of this immortal might surely slow down my own ageing process if even only slightly. Worst case scenario is he dies, I grow old and none of us have to worry about any more crappy pirate films. Everyone's a winner!

So The Rum Diary tells the story of Paul Kemp, a younger Thompson who, after becoming a failed author, accepts a journalism job on a crappy newspaper in Puerto Rico. As the paper declines, he becomes increasingly more exposed to the shitiness of the world and the pleasures of various hallucinogens. In some ways it's almost the Gonzo equivalent of Casino Royale as our rookie main character slowly develops into the cocky end product that we're used to. Thompson's persona here is surprisingly contemplative and significantly less self-assured than the maniacal Raul Duke.

Whereas Kemp wakes up with bloodshot eyes due to excess drink, Duke wakes up with a Z carved into his head due to excess drugs. By toning down the psychotic drug use, Kemp is a lot more relatable and even likeable than Duke who is great fun to watch but too insane to understand. If Duke's rampage of destruction is comparable to the Hulk, then Kemp is the more controlled Bruce Banner. There's traces of the monster in him, but for now at least he can keep it contained.

Despite the coherence of his speech and stability of his swagger however, Kemp does occasionally find himself in the middle of typical Thompson scenarios. There's cockfighting, car chases and of course an unhealthy amount of intoxication. Although Kemp leans more towards booze than an adrenalin gland, that's not to say that this film lacks any drug related belly laughs. After taking one substance Kemp witnesses an associate's tongue protrude a few feet out of his mouth sort of like a junkie Jar Jar Binks... Which I'm assuming is probably what he is now considering the decade of hate that the Gungan fuck up has received. There's also an amusing scene here in which he tries to fend off some attackers by blowing fiery booze at them before accidentally lighting up a chasing policeman's face. Easily done I guess...

Considering that this is Bruce Robinson's first film in 17 years it really shows what we've been missing out on. His script is funny, melancholic and a complement to Thompson's book which it apparently only shares two lines of dialogue with. According to interviews, Robinson was harassed out of director retirement by Depp who pestered him back behind the camera. There's a scene in this film in which the two main character's drunkenly order a steak whilst the establishment's staff refuse to serve it. It's hard not to compare this to Withnail's famous, “we want cake and tea” scene and see exactly why Depp rightly felt Robinson would be the perfect man for the job.

Although the best bits of this film might be Kemp's early Nixon rant or his experimentation with narcotics, it's the theme of the film that impresses the most. The disappointment Kemp feels as he witnesses the decline of the American dream adds an air of sadness to a character who has previously seemed too insane to feel things as human as emotions. Duke is hellbent on chaos because of the things that Kemp has witnessed and so as a sort of pseudo-prequel The Rum Diary is another success.

Also I'm aware that I earlier stated that both this and Fear and Loathing are two completely separate films and have then proceeded to compare them a lot. However like any book adaptation or remake they share enough DNA that their differences are what makes them interesting. Kind of like having two brothers with one being a priest and the other raping goats for a living. On the one had their individual achievements are the focus but you also can't help but wonder how and why they differ. I guess in that specific case it would be that one shags animals and the other shags choir boys.

So after such a long wait, fans of the Gonzo King should rejoice. The Rum Diary is an enjoyable watch for both expanding on and slightly explaining the mind of Hunter Thompson. If you've never heard the phrase, “Buy the ticket, take the ride” then this will be an easy introduction to one of America's most important pop culture figures. If there's one piece of advice that could be taken from this film, it's as Kemp sits on his partners lap whilst driving a car. As the vehicle begins to bounce and the two men seemingly start to bugger each other he spots a police car. His plan to escape the situation without arrest is a rather ironic plan for Thompson having spent his entire life being paid to be so different. He simply intends to, “Try and look normal!”

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