Moviedrome Redux: ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’ (1998)

❉ Nick Clement presents his assessments of cinematic gems and cult oddities. This week: We’re in bat country!

A landmark of cinematic excess and a monument to extreme personal waste. What begins as a festival of bad behavior rapidly becomes a volatile carnival of wild transgressions by its conclusion. An ode to the beast within. Chaotic, loud, obnoxious, and utterly unhinged, the film adaptation of the iconic novel, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is Terry Gilliam on two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, with half a salt shaker of cocaine on the side, and maybe, just maybe, some adrenochrome.

Aggressive doesn’t begin to cover this masterful piece of work – it forcefully shoves your face into a kaleidoscopic realm of drug-fueled hyper-insanity, all beautifully stitched together by Hunter Thompson’s indelible prose and the gonzo filmmaking energy of Gilliam and every single one of his collaborators. The obscenely gifted (and one-eyed) cinematographer Nicola Pecorini should have won every award back in the day for his work on this aesthetically ground-breaking piece of cinema. Scene after scene, shot after shot, one is left with a buzzing sensation in their eyes, as the restless camera never stops prowling, swerving, or gliding, producing waves of cinematic euphoria that have rarely been achieved. The location shooting only helped to make this film feel as authentic as it does, and the combined efforts of a team of screenwriters, all of whom helped to shape the script from Thompson’s novel during different stages of development and production.

Few other narrative films have shown the LSD experience for what it truly can be (James Toback’s Harvard Man has an EXCEPTIONAL trip-out sequence, as does Larry Clark’s Bully, and Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void – DMT in that one…) and you can tell that Gilliam was eager to explore how he could visually convey the nearly sadistic bingeing and drugging that Dr. Gonzo and his Lawyer would embark upon.

Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro gave career-topping performances, never once not feeling 110% committed to the maximum absurdity unfolding all around them. Depp studied Thompson’s mannerisms for months before shooting and the effect that their personal relationship had on his performance can be intrinsically felt at all times. Del Toro had to go off of stories and memories for his bit of methodically uncontrolled madness as Thompson’s animalistic partner in crime, and everything he brought to this film – the fat stomach, the out of control hair, the demonic glint in his eye – added up to creating a truly gluttonous monster of a man. These are two hedonistic men who literally will stop at nothing in order to achieve a level of intoxication that they both felt might lead them into uncharted realms of the sublime; or maybe not. And while the behavior on display is morally questionable, there can be no doubt that an electric charge can be felt emanating from the screen.

I can remember buying a ticket for this film, back in high school, on the Sunday of its opening weekend, and the cashier remarking incredulously: “Are you sure?! We’ve had a lot of walkouts and angry people…” Seriously, only a fool would go into this movie blind; I hope that the people who bolted early were so shocked and appalled by what they’d seen that they’ll never forget it for the rest of their lives. This isn’t a movie for everyone; in fact, I’d say that there’s a limited audience for this film and other works like it — you need to WANT to be surrounded by drunk and high people for an extended period of time, so as a result, the asinine levels of drug and alcohol fueled debauchery that occur will be a turn off to many, many people.

I’ve long been fascinated with Thompson and Gilliam as artists, and this project seemed like a natural fit for Gilliam to tackle considering his anarchic view on life, and how Thompson’s original text sought to challenge every single notion of what everyone felt was normal and acceptable.

I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I’ve seen this film, especially during my college years and when I lived in Los Angeles during my twenties. It’s a vision of total madness, and I could watch it every single day of my life and never get tired of all of its insanity. And yet at the same time, I can totally understand how this motion picture might act as a repellent to other viewers. Oh yeah, and the film’s soundtrack is one of the best ever compiled.


❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.

❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.

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