Ever the individualist, Hunter S. Thompson’s desire to have his cremated remains stuffed into a cannon then fired into oblivion, like much of his writing, proved to be a little more difficult than the masses could manage. How on earth could the lucky piece of artillery be chosen from a country that insists on the right of its citizens to bear arms?
The appropriate solution came in the form of a one-hundred-word-or-less essay contest sponsored by the Aspen Daily News. Incredibly, fifty replies were received. Sadly, a winner was never declared—it seems that Johnny Depp wrote a big cheque and moved Thompson’s blast up to the category of spectacle (complete with fireworks and celebrities).
Happily, Blue Kraning latched on to this marvellous fodder (the letters were also published in Harper’s Magazine) and has crafted a wonderful film around the most intriguing “Gonzo Patriot” entries.
Not surprisingly, those who own, fire and maintain devices intended to kill, maim or obliterate (other than the U.S. military, of course) are curious folk whose outlook on life is not far from the famed journalist. Purple-loving Paul Stone revels in the power of his bowling ball cannon. At point blank range, its targets (television, piano—a truly lost chord—BBQ and stuffed animals) burst on cue into smithereens in a slapstick fashion and accompanied by yuk-yuk banter that evokes memories of The Three Stooges. Hilariously, his, er, equipment, is carefully tended after every volley by the Swabettes (a chorus line of young women who dance up a storm in the finale) with Hanes’ briefs covered plungers “Was that good for you?” demurs one of the attendants after her cleansing poke into the tunnel of messy destruction.
Steve Harris and his son demonstrate a variety of cannons and provide a gruesome reminder as to how “slow match” cord used to be wrapped around personal shooters as a form of torture—thank goodness those days are past ...
A trio of Coloradoans share a bottle of Jack Daniels as their pride and joy, Lulu, barks loudly after the traditional caution, “Fire in the hole,” indicates a lit fuse will soon find its target of black powder and throw another load of animal shit (an environmentalist at heart) back into the bush.
Jack and Jake are a pair of re-enactment specialists. Wearing Confederate gear (including an upside down U.S. belt buckle) they show off their precision drill with obvious passion and poise. Jake is the self-described androgynous leader (that’s a story in itself) who boldly marches side by side with men on week-long treks of reliving America’s deadly domestic dustups.
The film is brilliantly edited and features a couple of blissfully blasted sequences that are as marvellous as their shooters (several of whom have built their firepower from scratch—there’s a hobby that will guarantee docile neighbours).
As fun as the noise, smoke and recoils are, the finest moments come from Thompson. Many lines are quoted from his books (e.g., “Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”) by an assortment of the “cast.” In their choices, tenor and tone, the love and admiration for Thompson’s craft comes across in a way that even the reported praise from his countless admirers can’t match (“Somebody out there is being himself.”). The glue is the writer’s ability to blast away at his targets with equally powerful—often more deadly—words, observations and pleas for sanity. But he already knew that when writing his will.
The seven “Patriot Mini-Docs” are certainly worth a look. Paul Stone’s antics (putting the condom back into the condiments as he prepares cannonized ham sandwiches and devilled eggs is an instant cult classic) and the more personal back-stories of the shooting hobbyists add extra fun and depth to the proceedings. JWR