I was afraid that Breakfast With Hunter Vol. 2 was going to be just a second volume, simply more of the Hunter Thompson show, an addendum to director Wayne Ewing’s 2002 documentary Breakfast With Hunter (reviewed by Matt Anderson on Movie Habit). And at first that’s what I thought I was watching. I said to myself, “Well, Ewing has this extra footage of Thompson and it was not used in Vol. 1, so why not show it now? That would be better than sitting on it after all... share it with the rest of the world.” Now that I’ve watched Breakfast Vol.2, I think there is more to this film than that.
Breakfast With Hunter Vol. 2: Animals, Whores & Dialogue: begins with a shot of Thompson’s signature pet peacock and a voiceover (by Thompson I assume, though it sounds eerily like William Burroughs) advising to only speak well of the dead and if you can’t say at least one nice thing about a bad man, don’t say anything at all.
Then we see Thompson on November 16, 2003 sitting at his typewriter and preparing to write a sports column for ESPN. He is surrounded by friends and small talk. The action is really not all that interesting. I had a creepy feeling that we are about to watch him put down his last published words... only no one knows that at the time. It will be like seeing the Hindenburg go down... you shouldn’t be watching but you can’t take your eyes off the scene. Instead there’s a cut to footage that was shot a few years earlier of Thompson at a celebratory gathering in honor of the 25th anniversary of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (the piece that became his best known work, was made into two films, and perhaps ended up as his own albatross). Yet this is stuff we’ve seen before. “Hmmm,” I thought, “padding it out already... not a good sign.”
Then we bounce back to Thompson’s home in Woody Creek and he’s still fussing with his typewriter and suddenly he explodes at an off camera remark. It’s not pretty. Well, you know how temperamental those artists can be. This sequence is repeated: Thompson at his typewriter, then some past glory, then back to 2003 and the kitchen scene again. Is this going anywhere?
Each time we come back to Thompson’s kitchen, we see that although he’s trying to write, nothing is getting done. The Gonzo fire seems to still burn within Thompson but when he reaches for the words, they aren’t there and he knows it. Ewing is an adept editor and I began to suspect that what I was seeing was more than just a trip down memory lane. He was contrasting this one event against Thompson’s past competence. By the end of the film, Thompson has written only one paragraph. He had to fight to get there, but he did do the thing.
Thompson killed himself in February 20, 2005 which by my count is 402 days later. It was also 79 days after the 2004 election and 31 days after Bush’s second inauguration... hard times for an old politico like Thompson. He was only 67, but failing physically and said to be unhappy about that. When I heard that he’d died, the first person I thought of was Hemingway, who also took his own life rather than grow any older. And with any suicide, there is a whiff of cowardice even if it’s the sane thing to do. Thompson had his faults (we all do) but I’m pretty sure cowardice was not one of them. And it’s a safe bet that he didn’t want anyone’s pity either. Could it be that Ewing is trying to explain Thompson’s death? Ewing does not come out and say so; this is only my speculation.
There may be good reason for Ewing not to be so explicit. Rather than get tangled up in an argument about end-of-life ethics, I think he is saying “Here’s where Hunter was and (in case you’ve forgotten) here’s where he used to be.” Seen in this light, Breakfast Vol. 2 makes a lot more sense. Then you remember the admonishment at the beginning of the film... if you can’t say one nice thing don’t say anything at all. Ewing seems to be going a step further and saying one nice thing for every bad thing.
A suicide leaves behind mixed emotions in friends and family, anger at being hurt by the intentional loss and sadness at the loss itself. I think we may be seeing those emotions being played out in the film. The last scene is of a birthday party/memorial for Thompson 6 months after his death. The people there have had time to sort out their feelings and if there were any bad words spoken, they are not shown. At one point the camera is turned on Ewing himself. Exposing the filmmaker like that makes it an even more personal film and we see that the sum of Breakfast with Hunter Vol. 2 is one good thing being said about a good man with some bad habits.
The case is made that Thompson was very honest. It seems fitting that his last days should be shown with the same honesty. This is not cruel apart from the cruelty of life nor voyeuristic apart from the very nature of film. It might be easy to accuse Ewing of exploiting the dwindling Hunter Thompson resource, but if I’m right, then this is a real stand-up work and one that I’d like to think Hunter would have approved of.
None on this disc.
Picture and Sound
Picture and sound are of decent quality. Thompson’s mumble is somehow comprehensible.... no small feat.
How to Use This DVD
This is a must see for fans of Dr. Thompson... but you already know that. Those who remain skeptical of Thompson should watch it too. It may not change your opinion of him, but then the problem will be yours not his.