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Friday, July 11, 2014

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 25 - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

NOTE: I apologize for my absence, life and sickness have made it difficult for me to focus or even get motivated to write anything.  Hopefully I can pick up the pace here some.  Also, a lot, if not most, of the coming articles in this series will be much shorter than the last fifteen because I am so far behind.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998;
Summit Entertainment & Universal Pictures)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Hunter S. Thompson (Book), Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Tod Davies, Alex Cox
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro

When Hunter S. Thompson decides to write an indictment of society’s ills, he does it through his own experiences.  Drugs, travel, paranoia, success and failure all present themselves in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a film adaptation of a seemingly unadaptable story.  Hunter S. Thompson writes himself under the pseudonym Raoul Duke as he travels across the American Southwest towards Las Vegas on the dime of Sports Illustrated as he is commissioned to cover a racing event in Sin City.  However, he and his attorney Dr. Gonzo (a slightly-fictionalized version of real-life attorney and public figure Oscar Zeta Acosta) are constantly sidetracked due to their rapid and excessive abuse of a hodgepodge of mind-altering substances.

On the surface, Fear and Loathing seems like a disjointed, meaningless, drug-fueled romp through Vegas, however, it is much more than that.  Upon its release, many mainstream film critics dismissed it as a “mess” and disputed its value thereby missing the point entirely.  The reality is, this is a film where it is almost required to understand the backstory to get the real gist of what is going on.  It is unfortunate, and normally I would knock off points for requiring supplementary materials, but this makes perfect sense.  If we were given thirty minutes of setup for this movie we would be disconnected from Thompson’s own perspective of the events that were occurring, which is 100% essential to the films’ quality.  The real backstory is complex but the long-and-short of it is, in real life Thompson was hired by SI, just like in the book, but the magazine rejected his novel on grounds of being “out there” and therefore he responded with this story, which is a cursory glance at the reality of Americana told from the perspective of an outsider who rejected the ideals of this fictionalized way of life.  The anti-establishment ideas in the film come across in some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) moments in the film, but it is never outwardly given to us in any form of narration or exposition with the exception of a few passing lines.  Thus, the film is difficult to digest for those who do not fully understand its origins.

Myself being somewhat of an outsider to both the world of Americana and the drug-driven anti-establishment movement of the 60’s and 70’s, I look at the film as an opposing voice to the “way things should be” as sold to us by our “leaders” and a shocking glimpse into the mind of the conflicted and disenfranchised.  It has always been a fascinating movie to me, as it is worthy of hours of dissection, discussion and debate and is still analyzed to this day.  Bad movies generally do not get this honor, so that can only mean that Fear and Loathing means a lot to a lot of people, and, at least in my view, has ascended above what some would consider “cult status”.

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