More Freak Power in the Rocky Mountains
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 man 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.”
Read the full article in the Autumn, 2018 issue of West of 105, available for free here.