I can’t help but be in awe of some of the authors I have read in my lifetime. Many of those authors came from a different time, and there are two specifically that I haven’t read as much of as I want. One is Hunter S. Thompson, and the other is Tom Wolfe, who is the subject of a new documentary released at the tail end of last year.
Both authors are similar in my view as I’ve read only one of each of their books. For Hunter, it was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas some decades ago, and for Wolfe, it was The Right Stuff just a few years ago.
These two are titans of literature in similar and different ways, and what “Gonzo” was to Hunter S., this documentary Radical Wolfe is to Tom.
It’s amazing to see his life and work documented on the screen. While the documentary is based on a Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis, who we spend a good deal of time with in the documentary, Tom Wolfe is a writer whose words the average person may spend time with while the man behind them remains a mystery.
This is true of Thompson, too. These two are, at least in my own mind, inseparable not because of their subject matter or writing style, but because of their contemporary fame as authors in the 60s and 70s.
It was a volatile and changing time in the world, and these two titans documented what they chose to, which often happened to be pretty on the pulse, even if that judgment can only be passed retrospectively.
Outside of The Right Stuff, both the book and the movie, I’ve only read about other astronauts’ opinions on his book and the subsequent movie, which all feature on their defense of Gus Grissom. So Radical Wolfe helped me to learn more about the man.
In fact, the documentary sets up the whole hour-plus discussion with a nice collection of different voices describing Wolfe, with a few choice words including “controversial… cynical… devastating… outlandish… mean…”
Why those words? The rest of the documentary explains all you need to know, or at least all you’re going to get from Vanity Fair’s Lewis, as well as, friends, family, and colleagues.
Wolfe is influential, there’s no denying that. So why don’t we have one like him now? Well, you can watch Radical Wolfe and decide for yourself, but I personally think it has a lot more to do with money and a lack of substance in most “content” that people mistake for journalism.
Still, Radical Wolfe is a captivating documentary about one of the literary giants of the late 20th century in both fiction and non-fiction. We would do well to take stock of what he stood for, and watching this documentary is one way to do so.