Where the Buffalo Roams is Hunter S. Thompson as cartoon character

I love Hunter S. Thompson. And I know I shouldn’t.

He was a dysfunctional drug addict, a man who destroyed both his body and his mind. He was cruel to many. He smoked, he drank, he cursed like a sailor addicted to mescaline, and he loved shooting and blowing things up. If there is a continuum of role models, he’s on the side that you should never ever aspire to be.

And yet… His words. My God, his words.

He was a writer unparalleled, a man who was used and abused by his muse, because the words came out with a passion and a fever that makes lesser men like me stand in stunned admiration. He wrote like a demon, crafting words like bullets…stabbing at his targets with precision that an expert marksman would envy.

While I don’t agree with any of his personal opinions and passions, I can’t help but respect the work. He fought against perceived injustices, and spat his words out at the world. If the words didn’t find an audience… well, that was the audience’s fault, not his.

A friend of mine recently expressed his admiration to me regarding my productivity. “You are so prolific, I wish I could be that way.” Me, prolific? Nope. Compared to Thompson, I’m a piker, a hobbyist.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote like a man possessed. Because, in a way, he was.

Was all of it brilliant? No, of course not. But what WAS brilliant was beyond the pale… perfect and white-hot and perceptive and TRUE… even if the details didn’t check out. Truth isn’t trivia… it’s bigger, more important than that.

I named one of my sons after Hunter S. Thompson… that’s how important he is to me as a writer, as a person. I know I’ll never be a better writer than him, and that’s fine. Some people are born with it, others have to fight get the words out and right.

But appreciating Thompson also means you have to understand his impact, how people think of him… and how the world tries to reshape him to be something that  he’s not.

The first attempt to adapt his words into something was with the movie Where the Buffalo Roam, which starred Bill Murray and Peter Boyle. It’s… interesting.

And kinda misses the whole point.

Like the better known adaptation Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they focus on the idea of Thompson as a character… “Wow, look at all his comedy misadventures and hallucinations!” That’s far less interesting (and safer) than how he viewed the world. Thompson’s narrative view, that “Gonzo” journalism that drives so much of his writing… it’s barely present in this film. It’s a footnote.

In Where the Buffalo Roam, he’s not a fleshed-out character… he’s a caricature. Things happen around him, he acts drunk and crazed… and we never understand WHY. At least with the Fear and Loathing movie, we get more of Thompson’s words (narrated by Johnny Depp). Here, we get paraphrases, some scraps here and there.

It’s Hunter as cartoon character. It’s… shallow.

Now, to be fair, Bill Murray does a hell of a job in the lead role. He spent an enormous amount of time with Hunter preparing for the film, and it shows. He tries to lift the material to something more than it was, and it’s a game effort. But watching it, you can totally see why they made the Fear and Loathing movie decade later.

They missed the key part. The demons, the passions. The WORDS.

Quick, final thoughts: Peter Boyle was utterly superb as Lonzo, the semi-fictional lawyer that Hunter wrote about so frequently. The supporting cast (Bruno Kirby, René Auberjonois) add great value to the proceedings… but again, it’s a movie looking for a reason for  being.

Perhaps showing more of what Thompson encountered in his life, and how if it enraged him and pushed him to write about it… instead of showing how “eccentric” he was… it may have been a better movie.

Oh, well. He still have his books and his words. Hunter, unfiltered, suspended in amber… still “alive” for us to visit and revisit forever.