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In a Land Before Gonzo


This month’s coolest film, The Rum Diary, reveals early years of Hunter S. Thompson.

The time Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson spent shooting and drinking together on Thompson’s Colorado ranch gave Depp ample time to absorb the spirit of his host.  For those of us who delighted in the actor’s uncanny turn as Gonzo journalism’s godhead in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, think of The Rum Diary as a prequel. Set in Puerto Rico in the 1950’s, Thompson’s first and only novel riffs on his experiences as a young journalist working for the San Juan Star. Written shortly after his Puerto Rican days, Thompson described The Rum Diary in a 1961 letter to his former editor at The Star, saying,“In a Twisted way, it will do for San Juan what The Sun Also Rises did for Paris. Well, it didn’t.  It was rejected summarily by the New York publishing establishment. Thompson lived through the better part of his career as a journalist before the book was finally published in 1999.  This is pre-hard-drugs Thompson, so don’t expect flying bats, but you will get a juicy look at the early years of a young aspiring novelist who failed his way into his destiny.