Even in the chaotic media environment of 2016, it would have been a bold idea. But in 1970, it was revolutionary.
It was then that “Scanlan” magazine decided to assign Hunter S. Thompson to cover the tradition-bound world of the Kentucky Derby, the result of which was a predictably anarchic, highly personal, partially fictionalized, tardily delivered piece that is recalled as a landmark of “gonzo journalism.”
The episode is chronicled in the latest ESPN “30 for 30” short, “Gonzo @ the Derby,” that premiered online Tuesday and will be shown on Friday’s 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter.”
The 12-minute film is directed by Michael Ratner, 26, who is from Old Westbury, and includes animated sequences as well as interviews with several principals, notably Thompson’s colorful illustrator and sidekick, Ralph Steadman.
Steadman neatly sums up the adventure by saying, “We were the face of the crowd we’d gone there to find.”
The actor Sean Penn is interviewed, as is Warren Hinckle, the editor whose idea the whole thing was.
The film, produced by Ratner’s OBB Pictures, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month.