The moment I picked Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas as part of Project A-Z I knew I had to do it as a "Scenes." There's no choice really, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is really nothing but a bunch of high powered vignettes thrown together. I could have pressed the fast forward button, closed my eyes, stopped it at random and would have in all probability a great scene to dissect.
This is exactly the thing that makes the film so maddening to its detractors. It just does not stop. Relentless doesn't cover it. Ebert famously quipped that "If you encountered these characters like this on an elevator, you'd push the button and get off at the next floor. Here the elevator is trapped between floors for 128 minutes." and in his recent review for The AV Club Scott Tobias seemed somewhat undone by the film (He also suggests that Enter The Void's relentless slog of human ugliness is somehow more appealing then Gilliam's KER-azy psychedelia. Suggesting he comes from Rand McNally. As an aside Mr. Tobias is actually responsible for the name of this blog. Though that is another story...)
But the thing that the detractor's miss is that just because it is unpleasant doesn't make it inaccurate. In the case of Fear And Loathing what is on the screen is what is on the page. You don't go see an adaptation of Moby Dick and then bitch that the whale is white.
And it's what on the page that made me finally decide to write up this particular scene in Fear And Loathing. But we'll get to that later...
We join the doctor as he lights up a bit of some unknown substance, at the end of a crazed chaotic binge. Now before you judge the doctor too harshly keep in mind that this...
Is what he was dealing with mere moments ago. I don't care who you are that'll make any man reach for the pipe.
Or er... Lightbulb... I've always thought that that is such a Gilliam touch. A little "Hey wait a minute." detail. The off kilter in the off kilter.
There are two things that are notoriously uncinematic, drugs and writing, and this scene fits in both.
And yet for all the tricks and stuff that have been used in the past nothing quite captures the powerful dislocative feeling of drugs as well as this simple shot. It's not just the couch moving. The foreground, background are all on different planes and as soon as Duke hit's whatever the hell that is they all become unattached from one another.
How Gilliam is that?
Contempt for worship of the sixties seems to have hit an all time high as boomer idealism continues to curdle at an exponential rate. Even I, who has a markedly higher tolerance for hippies then most of my generation could barely make it through a few of the solemner passages documenting the flower children, in Doctrow's Homer And Langley without laughing my ass off.
And yet, the feeling In Fear And Loathing seems earned. Maybe it's simply because Gilliam himself is a full fledged Hippie and this sequence set at "The Matrix" is as much his nostalgia trip as Thompson's.
Ah and there's the ghost of Christmas future himself. It's hard to look at Thompson now in the wake of his suicide. Hard for me to read him after he himself decided he had no answers. Thompson gave up, and though I know it isn't fair it's hard to not feel especially all these years later, that he didn't have the right. The carnival is running, still as crazy as ever and we need our barker. We need him and he is not here. It is just that simple and just that sad.
The fish eye lens and Terry Gilliam were made for each other.
The jump cuts that Gilliam uses to document Thompson's first encounter with LSD are a bit more standard then what he was using in the hotel room. This little vignette inside a vignette is just further proof of what a delightfully digressive (for me) movie Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is.
Like I said, writing is almost as hard to film as drug use. And yet the words on the Voice over now are perhaps the most important in Thompson's career. Certainly the most important to himself. If there is any doubt just watch him rip Alex Cox a new asshole in Gonzo for having the temerity to suggest animating it.
These clips aren't presented in the usual congratulatory montage way the sixties are usually summed up in. But edited with the ferocity of the drug trips.
Slowing down only for a sly nod at both the beginnings of Thompson's career and the end of sixties.
The fact that we can look at that image without immediately laughing are a testament to Thompson's work.
In the closing moments with Thompson's words echoing through our ears it dawns on us. This isn't really about the sixties this is Thompson's version of the sixties. The reason it resonates isn't because of what happened it's because what it did to Thompson. He's telling his own version of the Garden Of Eden and it ends with him cast out and left alone with a head full of acid and a two hundred and fifty pound Samoan with a hunting knife. Worst of all he can still see the Eden, though it's forever out of his reach.
It's all there in that moment as much for Thompson as for us. That high cresting beautiful wave that crests and breaks just outside our grasp and then recedes, leaving us to chase it for the rest of our lives.