Review: Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver (2006)

>> Saturday, January 19, 2008

USA/C-80m./Dir: Wayne Ewing/Cast: Lisl Auman (Herself), Hunter S. Thompson (Himself), Warren Zevon (Himself), Bob Auman (Himself), Jaun Thompson (Himself)

The third film in Wayne Ewing’s gonzo documentary trilogy is the least Hunter S. Thompson-centric. The real star of the show is Lisl Auman, a young woman who received a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being falsely accused of involvement in the shooting of a police officer. After reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in prison, Lisl wrote Dr. Gonzo to elicit his help. Always one to fight social injustice, Thompson responded immediately and enlisted friends, defense lawyers, grass-roots pressure, and the power of the pen to fight for Lisl’s freedom.

Like Ewing’s previous documentary, When I Die (2005), Free Lisl doesn’t qualify as a “Booze Movie.” No alcohol is consumed or even discussed in the film. However, Hunter S. Thompson is such an iconic figure of soused cinema that I felt it important to discuss this documentary--in part because it feels incomplete to only review two films in a trilogy, but also because Free Lisl displays Hunter’s often-overlooked serious side. Since Thompson employed booze, pills, wild exaggeration, shocking language, and dark humor to emphasize the underlying themes in his writing, people have a tendency to focus on his “Dr. Gonzo” persona rather than on his journalistic credentials. In point of fact, Dr. Thompson was the best and most important writer to come out of the new journalism movement of the 60’s and 70’s. His work may have been stylistically vibrant, but his subject matter was bleak--greed, racism, legal injustice, dirty politics, and shattered idealism--all of the darkest truths that lay beneath the surface of “the American dream.”

Free Lisl is fascinating not only for displaying the social activist side of Hunter. The story of Lisl Aumin’s wrongful conviction is both absorbing and well told. Ewing’s decision to slowly reveal the details of the case over the course of the film can be frustrating for the viewer at times, but it turns out to be a very effective technique, as it puts us at the center of a slowly unraveling mystery. The tale of Hunter S. Thompson's last great battle makes for Wayne Ewing’s best documentary (despite the complete lack of alky content).

Drinks Consumed--None whatsoever

Intoxicating Effects--Again none

Potent Quotables--LISL: When I went to prison, I, for some reason I thought, ya know I’m going to write this crazy old bastard a letter.

Video Availability--The DVD of Free Lisl and Wayne Ewing’s other HST documentaries can only be purchased directly from the director’s Website, Hunter Thompson Films (http://www.hunterthompsonfilms.com/)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Wayne Ewing previously documented the gonzo world of Hunter S. Thompson in Breakfast with Hunter (2003) and When I Die (2003). The director still has a lot of unused footage from his years on the road with Hunter, so he may have a few more movies up his sleeve.

The Gonzo Tapes:The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Box Set)

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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