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  Fear and Loathing in Aspen Anybody Can Be A Politician
Year: 2021
Director: Bobby Kennedy III
Stars: Jay Bulger, Cheryl Hines, Laird MacIntosh, Amaryllis Fox, Maxwell Loeb, Emily Garnet, Lincoln Nemeth, Paul Morgan, James Chambers, Henry Dills, Mac Hedges, Danny Power, Bobby Kennedy III, Weston Cage Coppola, Carlo Lombardi, Maya Ferrario, Kick Kennedy
Genre: Comedy, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1970, in Aspen Colorado, there was a skirmish in the culture wars brewing. A lot of that was down to the presence of a local to the area, a relative newcomer called Hunter S. Thompson (Jay Bulger) who had moved there with his wife Sandy (Emily Garnet) and young son so he could get away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and finally finish that great American novel he was slaving over. But though it was supposed to be healthy out in that mountain air, the reality was beginning to change for the worst as corporations were building industrial plants that polluted the region. Something, thought Thompson, had to be done...

This was one of those true stories that had to be taken with a pinch of salt, as it was based on articles by Thompson himself, and he had a tendency towards self-mythologising. But the essence of it was true, he really did run for office in this Colorado town because he thought he could rally the support of the influx of hippies into the area who had come there to do as he had, get away from it all, get back to nature, knit their own muesli and so forth. Though Thompson was keener on getting his sustenance from the hunting and fishing he could indulge in there, the conclusion was still the same: the environment had to be healthy.

Unfortunately for the hippies, the moral majority did not see eye to eye with them, and they regarded the pursuit of profit for big business as part of the American Dream, so they were going to support it all the way even as their surroundings were turned toxic. It seems obvious that they would have realised they were in the wrong once the rivers were clogged, and the plants and animals started dying, but never underestimate the attraction of the mighty dollar, and this was really what Thompson was battling against, which made him equal to a Communist in his enemies' eyes, despite his politics being more libertarian than extreme left of the divide.

In director and writer Bobby Kennedy III's relatively brief and to the point historical dramatisation he cast Bulger as Thompson, who given he was following in the footsteps of Johnny Depp, and to a lesser extent Bill Murray, in playing the iconic, gonzo writer, had some big shoes to fill. Bulger would be best known as a documentarian, most likely for Beware of Mr Baker where he followed drummer Ginger Baker around and nearly got beaten up by him for his trouble, but here showed surprisingly decent acting chops in a performance that could have lapsed into caricature. Certainly there was a creeping feeling of an impersonation in his stylings, but Kennedy included bits and pieces to humanise what could have been played for broad comedy or thumping satire.

Fair enough, there was an element in that, and not only in Thompson as his opponents came across as liberals' bogeymen and women, narrow minded bigots and reactionary squares, constantly threatening to turn this into a slobs versus snobs farce which you doubt the author would have approved of, yet enough of the social conscience showed through at the right times. Kennedy used some vintage footage very well indeed, so much so that unlike other productions that tried the same tricks, you couldn't easily tell where the 1970 stuff ended and the newly shot stuff began. Obviously, they were walking a dangerous tightrope here, for those who know Thompson's writings are very protective of it, and those who do not may not be onboard with this quasi-biopic, so it could have fallen between two stools, but something about the depiction of when politics really did appear to be either/or, and not posing as that to simplify complicated subjects as it is now, might rouse the nostalgia factor. Nostalgia for culture wars past, what a concept.

[Bobby Kennedy III's New Feature "Fear and Loathing in Aspen" Opens in Select US Theaters July 23 2021 from Shout! Studios.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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