Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Retro Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 Quick story: in the world of quasi-counterculture of high school circa 1998, there were very few things as exciting as the impending release of Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I know this because I and friends of mine were quasi-countercultural in high school, insomuch as one could be where we went to high school. For a few of us, following the every movement of the film was like a trail of breadcrumbs to something that of course would be amazing. Even more amazing, we hoped, than the release of Thompson's oft-delayed Polo is My Life (which never came out, by the way).

 As recently as five years ago it was fashionable for assholes to assume that people only knew who Terry Gilliam was because of Fear and Loathing - I guess because the assholes making that assumption weren't old enough to see it themselves. If this qualifies as justification, I think it's fair to point out that before I had a working understanding of what the words "Monty" "Python" "Flying" and "Circus" meant in conjunction, I had already seen Time Bandits. In fact, I'm positive that I had seen Time Bandits on home video long before Monty Python registered in my brain. I was traumatized at a young age by the parents who failed to recognize "Evil" and were destroyed, orphaning Kevin until Sean Connery arrived as a fireman (and not Agamemnon) to rescue him.

 To be fair, it was probably years later before I saw Brazil, which is what most defensive geeks cite when someone throws the "you only like him because of Fear and Loathing" slur, but I did see The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys in theatres (with a bonus Independence Day trailer in front of Monkeys, which I remember for no apparent reason). Anyway, so the collision of director we liked and author we loved (with Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, no less) we a "must see" affair. We put on hawaiian shirts, poker visors, and headed to the Grande in Raleigh.

 It didn't matter that critics savaged the film, or that people got up and left during the movie while we howled with laughter. We loved it, and though the film died the quick death at the box office, it became its own bona fide cult phenomenon on video. Hell, it even has its own Criterion Spine Number (175). Eat that, fashionable assholes.

 But that is not the quick story. Oh no. That's the background to what happened after we saw the movie, where our own bourgeoisie version of "Gonzo" kicked in. See, a nearby high school was building a new annex and we'd been sneaking by there on weekends and evenings to poke around the in construction and rarely secured proto-building. We figured that night would be a good opportunity to do the same, and the driver in question parked his Dart across four parking spaces as we tromped around the pretty-much completed and now totally locked new area. The important part here is how he parked the car, because otherwise there's a reasonably good chance the local police wouldn't start investigating potential tresspassing.

 But he did, and they did, and we three geniuses came marching around the building like people with something to hide (rather than walk all the way around the campus and pretend we'd simply been out for a stroll nearby), so they took our ID's and ran them while we sweated it out. Of course, being suburbia, they just told us to go home and we did and that was that. There's no good ending to the adventure, because we lived in and near a city where police are bored, kids are even more listless, and misdemeanors aren't worth anybody's time.

 Still, at the time it felt like a fitting cap to seeing the film, and it wasn't like we didn't visit other high school campuses and tool around (forgive me, but I have a fascination with structures designed to be populated but are instead deserted, hence my dalliance with abandoned mall exploration years later). We watched Fear and Loathing again and again on video, and eventually Thompson published The Rum Diary, Kindgom of Fear much (MUCH) later, followed by Hey Rube. I still haven't seen the critically lukewarm-ed The Rum Diary adaptation (also starring Depp) but I did watch all of Gilliam's subsequent films, including the terrible Brothers Grimm, the Cormac McCarthy-level bleak Tideland, and the fascinating but inevitably compromised The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I haven't tooled around and empty campus in a long time, though. It seems a little perv-y now.

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