Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- The North Star Coffee Lounge

20 years ago this month, the movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas drove a hundred miles an hour with the top down into the heart of the American Dream. Critics and audiences alike largely dismissed the film, though this didn't deter me from seeing it four times in its very short theatrical run - skipping school on at least one occasion to squeeze in an extra dose of bad craziness.
It's fair to say that all films benefit from the full movie theater experience, but I certainly have my own exclusive mental list of stuff that just ain't the same on the home video format. Having viewed it both ways, I can confidently declare that the relentlessly colorful, loud hysteria of this savage journey is definitely dulled on even the biggest TV - or the smallest "device." Bluntly put, if you haven't survived it in the cinema, you haven't really taken the ride...
Big talk for a low-budget slapstick comedy. Though light as it is, the interpretation of Hunter Thompson & Ralph Steadman through Johnny Depp & Terry Gilliam (et al., respectively) makes for a more-than-adequately faithful translation of the source material: hilariously disorienting and exquisitely structureless; and so the climax of this 'story' is understandably untraditional and compellingly poignant.
Immediately following one of the more abrasive sequences in a movie full of abrasive sequences, everything - the writing, the directing, the performances, the laughs, the psychedelic songtrack - loosens up and then solidifies into a humid, sinister nightmare: reality. (Gilliam's at his best with these kinds of moods.) After the hysterical hysteria of the first 90 minutes, our two heroes slow down long enough for us to get a good look at them: Duke (Depp as Thompson's alter ego) as the hawk-eyed observer we already knew, and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro's loose portrayal of Oscar Acosta) as the batshit-crazy L.A. attorney whose political beliefs & proclivity for social & racial justice were admirable, but was still a dangerous drug fiend - a 'high-powered mutant' - and a goldmine for literary folklore.
In the scene, del Toro torments a helpless waitress played by Ellen Barkin, and after the events of this particular story, we truly don't know what will happen. But what does happen is why it is truly the punchline to this longwinded joke; the film (as the book did) calls attention to the conceited empire/colossal failure of post-1960s culture. You can draw a straight line between this scene and the final act of Easy Rider: The American Dream is such a ripe punchline for this (or any) point in time, and like any joke, it takes talented and intelligent humorists to emphasize the question mark it's always been - and still is.

- Paul 

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails