West of 105 Magazine - - Culture & Events -

Hunter S. Thomp­son re­mains, more than a dozen years af­ter his death, a larger than life cult fig­ure. Known for his unique jour­nal­is­tic style as much as his af­fec­tion for dis­charg­ing firearms in his home, Thomp­son is re­mem­bered by many through his work and works cre­ated from them, chief among them Terry Gil­liam's adap­ta­tion of Thomp­son's book “Fear and Loathing in Las Ve­gas.”

The Thomp­son-de­rived body of work is about to get a new ad­di­tion. Di­rec­to­rial debu­tant Bobby Kennedy III is cur­rently in Sil­ver­ton fi­nal­iz­ing pre-pro­duc­tion on “Freak Power,” a movie about Thomp­son's run for sher­iff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970. We spoke to Kennedy about the film, who's in it (and who def­i­nitely isn't), what prompted him to make the movie and why the tim­ing is right.

“I'm pas­sion­ate about start­ing a third party in Amer­ica,” Kennedy says as a lead up to ex­plain­ing why he is mak­ing this movie at all. “I just re­ally think that the two party sys­tem is bro­ken.”

“One of the best chances we ever had, at least in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory, to cre­ate a third party was Hunter and the Freak Power move­ment in Aspen. He tried to break the two party sys­tem and I think that's the story I'm try­ing to tell. Hunter Thomp­son is al­most like the bait on the hook, reel­ing peo­ple in to the more im­por­tant story.”

For those who have only heard about Thomp­son's run for sher­iff tan­gen­tially, it is a seem­ingly mad­cap at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal of­fice that will come as no sur­prise to any­one who knows, or at least thinks they know, Thomp­son. (His man­i­festo in­cluded re­nam­ing Aspen Fat City to de­ter in­vestors and rip­ping up the city streets with jack­ham­mers and re­plac­ing them with sod.) Kennedy says Thomp­son knew all along what he was do­ing.

“I think he was a very savvy po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor. It's just like

Trump. Some­times you have to say some ridicu­lous stuff to get at­ten­tion, but you know, [Thomp­son's] plat­form was per­fectly sen­si­ble in the end, it's just the way he worded it was de­signed to get at­ten­tion - both neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive.”

In that elec­tion, Thomp­son won Aspen (the county seat of Pitkin County), but lost over­all in the county “be­cause the Democrats and Repub­li­cans teamed up and voted against him which showed you how [they] re­ally are once you get past the su­per­fi­cial shout­ing at each other.”

This isn't a movie strictly about Hunter S. Thomp­son, but, Kennedy says, “we have some good out­ra­geous stuff. I mean, Hunter Thomp­son is there but it is also grounded in a po­lit­i­cal thought piece,” he says. “But we're go­ing to go full Hunter for sure. I think we have more ridicu­lous stuff than Fear and Loathing, but not the whole time. When we go, we go hard.”

So it isn't a biopic. “It's just about three months of his life. If you wanna make a story about a hu­man you gotta limit the time frame be­cause peo­ple are not the same ev­ery day. I think this was prob­a­bly the mo­ment in Hunter's life that shows the most about his char­ac­ter.”

As Thomp­son re­mains such a mas­sive cult fig­ure, Kennedy knows he might up­set a few peo­ple, but he isn't overly con­cerned. “Ev­ery­body has their Hunter story and ev­ery­body is pro­tec­tive over what they thought about him,” he says. “I'm not go­ing to make ev­ery­body happy, I know that. Peo­ple feel per­sonal and feel own­er­ship over his life in some ways.

“[But] I'm not try­ing to make ev­ery­body happy, I'm just try­ing to make some­thing that I think is im­por­tant for to­day. So I've taken some lib­er­ties to make things more rel­e­vant for the cur­rent day. But I think if Hunter watched it, he would think that this is the best movie made about him.”

As for re­search, Kennedy had an in­sider but for the most part he is cre­at­ing his own story. “My dad and him ex­changed a bunch of let­ters so I have those, but for the most part I went based on the facts of the story to try to cre­ate my own nar­ra­tive. There has been so much writ­ten about Hunter… I read all the books then just threw them away.”

As for bring the pro­duc­tion to Colorado, there were a num­ber of fac­tors that led to Sil­ver­ton be­ing cast in a sup­port­ing role. One of them was the very prac­ti­cal con­cern of fi­nanc­ing, but the other was all Colorado.

Aspen has changed im­mea­sur­ably in the al­most 50 years since the “Bat­tle of Aspen” and so it couldn't pos­si­bly pass for Thomp­son's Aspen, but small bud­get aside, Kennedy sums up choos­ing Sil­ver­ton by say­ing: “You just can't fake Colorado.”

He goes on. “Be­cause of what [Sil­ver­ton] has here, it has al­lowed us to make the film how we want to make it. If we had to make it any­where else it would prob­a­bly be a $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion dol­lar movie, but we're mak­ing it for $250,000 and it's go­ing to look like a $5 mil­lion dol­lar movie.”

Kennedy had been try­ing to get the movie made for a while, and at one point it looked as if Sony was on board. “What hap­pened, for the record, is we had a Sony deal,” he says. “[But] it wasn't work­ing out. The stu­dio was hav­ing a lit­tle trou­ble [as] they had to jus­tify ev­ery­thing to their busi­ness af­fairs depart­ment. They wanted us to cast James Franco as Hunter, but you don't need a fa­mous ac­tor to play Hunter. Hunter is more fa­mous than any ac­tor that you're go­ing to get. Just put some­body into the role who will melt into [it].”

That ended up be­ing Jay Bul­ger. “He kinda is, in many ways, the new Hunter S. Thomp­son,” Kennedy says. Bul­ger won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Doc­u­men­tary at 2012's SXSW for Be­ware of Mr. Baker, a doc­u­men­tary about rock drum­mer Gin­ger Baker which was based on his ar­ti­cle “The Devil and Gin­ger Baker” for Rolling Stone that saw Bul­ger live with Baker in South Africa in much the same way as Thomp­son lived with the Hell's An­gels.

“And he ac­tu­ally got punched in the face by Baker just like Hunter got beat up by Hell's An­gels,” Kennedy says. “They were kind of in the same place in their ca­reers. They look iden­ti­cal, too,” he says. “I think Jay is go­ing to be a big star as an ac­tor.”

Bul­ger may be a house­hold name of the fu­ture, but a name that ev­ery­one will know is Ch­eryl Hines. Per­haps best known as Ch­eryl David in Curb Your En­thu­si­asm, Hines will bring her act­ing prow­ess to the film as well as her star power. Also ap­pear­ing in the movie will be Emily Burke.

It has been al­most half a cen­tury since Thomp­son's run and more than a dozen years since his death, but there is an­other rea­son Kennedy thinks the tim­ing right.

“It's been 50 years since my grand­fa­ther (ju­nior Se­na­tor from New York and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Robert F. Kennedy) was as­sas­si­nated,” he says. “Nine­teen Sixty Eight was prob­a­bly the most piv­otal year in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory and the time when we re­ally got off track as a coun­try. I think 50 years later we're re­ally deal­ing with the reper­cus­sions of what hap­pened then and it's a time to take a stand,” he says.

“I think the events of ‘68, in­clud­ing Hunter get­ting beaten up by the na­tional guard at the demo­cratic con­ven­tion is what drove him into pol­i­tics. With ev­ery­thing go­ing on right now, I think Hunter, a gun-tot­ing lib­eral, is for some strange rea­son a unit­ing fig­ure.

“The two party sys­tem is bro­ken and right now is the time to take a stand. It's time for some­thing new.”

Photo: Jay Bul­ger will por­tray Hunter S. Thomp­son in Bobby Kennedy's film “Freak Power”YOU JUST C A N ’ T FA K E COLORADO-BOBBY KENNEDY III

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