THE RUM DIARY – “Missing in Action”

The Frustrated Ramblings Of An Aspiring Filmmaker - Issue 1 Five and a half long years after the Good Doctor Hunter S. Thompson left this weird world to harass the squares of the after life it is almost time for his work to grace the big screen once again. In the wake of his devastating death rumours were rife that the several books, stories and works of HST were being adapted for film. Yet still I wait. Dr Thompson€™s novel The Rum Diary was written in the 1960s, not published until 1998 and in recent years has been put into cinematic production. The word on the street is that the film was shot over a year ago and is in post-production at least, but still there is no release date and no trailer. IMDB states that Russia will be granted the gift of release on March 31st 2011 and that the USA shall get it in the very precise and small time scale that is 2011. One report I found on the tinterweb was that the UK release was scheduled for September 25th 2010, but with it being the 2nd today I doubt very much that it will be hitting our screens in such short proximity. There were even viral rumours of the film struggling for distribution. Whatever the reason for The Rum Diary appearing to be missing in action it doesn€™t look good for the film yearned for by HST€™s freakpower supporters. The Rum Diary sees Johnny Depp play Paul Kemp, a journalist who takes a job on a small time Puerto Rican newspaper whilst he waits for his chance at the big time. As he drinks his weight in rum and collides with the collection of misfits and screw-ups that surround him at the newspaper he gets caught up in a strange and surreal love triangle. After two unsuccessful attempts at adaptation the book has finally been brought to our screens with the support of Depp and his production company Infinitum Nihil with Bruce Robinson, of Withnail And I (1986) fame, adapted the screenplay and directing his first movie in 18 years. The book was one of Thompson€™s darker tales with a twisted and surreal edge to a slow burning story of a man who fears life passing him by as he waits for the glory he longs for. The heavy booze, heat and jealousy of Kemp and his colleagues spills over into violence and maniacal activity. With the book being written by Hunter at around the age of 22 and long before Gonzo journalism was the centre of his work it differs from most of his other writings. The Rum Diary is a subtle, yet deep character study unlike his most notable and possibly extravagant work Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Perhaps this is why it is the only piece of HST€™s writings that has seemingly made into production. However, I wonder how the film has been adapted and what sort of reaction it will get from critics, the box office and the freaks alike. The problem with HST€™s stories are that they push the boundaries of acceptable and sane, fuelled with drink and strong illegal drugs they explode with anarchy and violence, and without a care for offending they hurl profanity and accusations at one and all. This is why the freaks love Dr Hunter Stockton Thompson and every word he has ever penned or uttered €“ he lives life on his own terms. This is also the reason why you never see you€™re favourite day time TV shows having a leisurely discussion on the political merits of Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail €™72. Gonzo journalism was and always will be a more underground literary movement where the freaks can worship their god in the comfort of their own living room. Film is a business and not an art form. A book can be bashed out in someone€™s spare time and convenience over an infinite numbers of weekends in between mind numbing days at the office and living off beans and toast. A film cannot. Film is big business. Big budget. Big risk. Maybe this is why studios and filmmakers have not taken the leap with another HST film? A good film needs to translate from freaks to squares and all manner of people in between in order to be a success. A niche market is no good when a film has cost several million pounds. Hunter Thompson was a celebrated writer and my own personal hero, but he was no J.K. Rowling. And neither did he want to be. If the cinematic incarnation of The Rum Diary has been adapted for main-stream audiences in order to aim for box office success it may stray too far from the freakpower path. If it loses the Good Doctor€™s voice and what made his writing so special it is sure to alienate and annoy his die hard fans. If it remains too true to Hunter€™s words and retains it€™s weirdness it may flop at the box office. With Johnny Depp starring and behind the production you would expect it not to flop. However, how many of your average cinema going joe public usually aged 15 to 24 have heard of the Good Doctor? The two previous big screen incarnations of Dr Thompson were Where The Buffalo Roam (1980) and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998). The first was a slapstick and caricatured look at the Doctor and despite the latter opening up Gonzo journalism to a new generation many believe it didn€™t do the book justice. Not only that, but it flopped too. Fear And Loathing cost $18 million and only made $10.6 million in the North American market. It lost money and only became a cult classic when it was released on DVD. Hunter€™s most famous book had faultered several times as many filmmakers struggled to get the book into production. Martin Scorcese and Oliver Stone both failed to bring the book to the big screen and names such as Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando as well as Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi touted to play Duke and Dr Gonzo. There was even talk of the film being animated at one point. It was a long and hard road that saw Fear And Loathing make it to the big screen only to fail financially. For me Fear And Loathing opened my eyes to Gonzo journalism and the work of my hero HST. Watching Fear And Loathing was the beginning of my love for Hunter and his every word and for that it will always remain my all time favourite film. The thing that resonated with me was Hunter€™s voice coming through so clearly in the narration and the beautiful, bizarre and surreal passages of the book being read as if the internal thoughts of Raoul Duke. Fear And Loathing opened my eyes to freakpower, Fear And Loathing in it€™s many guises, The Great Shark Hunt and the theory €˜buy the ticket, take the ride€™. In short it changed my life. The film also received the backing of the Good Doctor himself with Hunter remarking,
"Yeah, I liked it. It's not my show, but I appreciated it. Depp did a hell of a job. His narration is what really held the film together, I think. If you hadn't had that, it would have just been a series of wild scenes.€
The film received the HST seal of approval, but it didn€™t equal box office bucks. The critics reactions were also mixed with New York Times€™ Stephen Holden writing,
"Even the most precise cinematic realizations of Mr. Thompson's images (and of Ralph Steadman's cartoon drawings for the book) don't begin to match the surreal ferocity of the author's language."
Many who had read the book before the film were of a similar opinion and believed the film didn€™t match up. As my first experience of HST it opened my eyes, but for old school fans it wasn€™t quite what they had hoped. Many believed the images didn€™t express the strength of the words written. Proof that even though the writer thought his life€™s work had been brought adequately to life it still didn€™t appease the critics. What fait awaits The Rum Diary? Will the financiers of The Rum Diary be happy with an $8 million loss at the North American box office so that the freak are happy? I doubt it. Will The Rum Diary change the lives of other young writers, rebels and freaks? I€™d love to think so. Can it share the Good Doctor€™s message of challenging a weird world even weirder behaviour and still make money? Answers on the back of a very weird post card. How would Hunter himself perceive his latest cinematic outing? Box office success and appealing to masses can surely only come from comprising the story to suit convention. Thompson was never one for convention. If it fails at the box office, yet satisfies the freaks it would surely put a big weird smile on Hunter€™s very weird face. Although it may just signal that the masses of squares are still not ready for HST to invade their cinemas and the result may just be no more film adaptations. Either way it appears that someone is not going to be happy. With Johnny Depp on board I€™m sure the film will be to the Good Doctor€™s tastes as the two were good friends and key to Depps€™ involvement was that friendship. I doubt very much Depp would allow a poor film to be made of such a close and admired friend€™s work. Could that then mean the film is doomed to box office failure from a generation who do not understand the importance of Gonzo journalism? If the indications are right and the film has been based on the book, but differs in several ways then it could appeal to wider audiences and do well at the box office. Will it then alienate the freaks? The fact that it seems to have stalled somewhere down the line doesn€™t sound good, but could it mean that it holds true to the words of the weird one? Only time will tell. As a long-standing freak power supporter and HST enthusiast I shall be welcoming the Good Doctor€™s latest cinematic incarnation with open arms. On opening day I shall be there at my local cinema with a smile on my face and contempt for convention and squares true in my heart whilst my actions scream that I am a freak rising above the weirdness of our times. Until then, I wait, as I have for 5 years, for another chance to see the Good Doctor on the big screen and watch his words come to life.

€œWhen the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.€ Dr Hunter S. Thompson


D.J. Haza hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.