- Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is part Fantasia meets Yellow Submarine meets Fellini Satyricon. It would come after, but I’d also throw Linklater’s Waking Life into the mix— all wildly imaginative, visually inventive (three of the four references here are animated) and proudly plotless
- Johnny Depp provides the voice-over and is the lead- playing an absolutely mad Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson) and Benicio Del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo. Both of these talented actors are clearly committed to the work. Depp is almost unrecognizable. If these two great actors (both in their prime in 1998—well Depp is in his and Del Toro heading into his) don’t land in these performances I think the film stumbles and may have a hard time recovering. Beyond the two leads there are a ton of fun little cameos with the likes of Cameron Diaz, Gary Busey, Tobey Maguire, Flea, Lyle Lovett, Christina Ricci, Harry Dean Stanton and Ellen Barkin—Thompson doesn’t have a line but he’s there himself in the film
- Apparently this adaptation (coveted material—but largely felt to be unfilmable which is common theme in Gilliam’s oeuvre from Baron Munchausen to Don Quixote) was a project of Repo Man director Alex Cox (he maintains a story credit here). Both Cox and Gilliam are maverick, iconoclastic/rebel filmmakers which makes sense on why they’d feel a kinship to the material
- Set in 1971- largely in Vegas- the height of glitz and gaudy costume and set/production design. We have the floating shag carpet the reptile zoo (hard not to think of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch in 1991 as well though that is a film at a different pace)
- Sardonic narration and hysterical dialogue “As your attorney I advise you” happens 15 times and I laughed every time
- The needle drop soundtrack (which is wall to wall) is often tongue-in-cheek as well- when it isn’t highlighting the 1971 drug culture (from Rolling Stones to Jefferson Airplane) it is touching “Tammy” from Debbie Reynolds or Tom Jones
- There is no arguing that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a brilliant feat of production design—beyond just the hoarder’s art messy meticulousness of Gilliam—this is about excess, loud color, the Bazooko circus, tracking through the man-made swamp at the Flamingo, the reverse processing of the neon lights of the strip in the Cadillac, the constant flashing lights, strobe lights, mirrors and carpet design. The American flag is a visual motif, as is the Vietnam war on television and pictures of Nixon everywhere
- A very nice slow-motion crane tracking shot into the 1965 flashback. The dancing scene at The Matrix club with “Don’t You Want Somebody To Love” song
- If you’re grading or evaluating this on plot, you’re making a mistake—a traditional storyline isn’t the goal here. Thompson’s work isn’t about that but the actual writing is sublime and well adapted- “ So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” A great monologue from Depp talking about San Francisco in the mid 1960’s
- Gilliam has not only made a major achievement of production design here– but the camera work with wild Wellesian angles as well (canted— repeatedly—most in his career to this point) is a stylistic triumph. Gilliam goes back to the tool bag: the overhead shot (the final one at the Flamingo is stunning), wide angle lens (he’ll make a small room feel huge), the barrage of neon and color– all a perfect marriage with both the source material from Thompson and Gilliam’s larger body of work as an auteur. It is an inspired selection of material and ambitiously executed (it doesn’t feel like the right word choice to call it flawless). This is a film about drug use, disorientation, hallucination
- Must-See film- top five of the year quality
What are the best streaming services out there and also the ones that feature films you couldn’t find anywhere else ? I remember discussing this, but I can’t find the page.
@Cinephile- I personally have netflix (seems to be the best new releases- especially in 2020), prime (I’d have it anyways with amazon and the sheer volume OnDemand is impressive and criterion streaming (impressive catalogue of auteur work and older films). I also have cable (HBO and some others) and record a ton of TCM – Turner Classic Movies and watch that. I’ll let others chime in
@Drake– Yeah, those are some of the best I think. I’d also add Grasshopper film, a distribution company that has launched a virtual cinema. It’s not streaming in terms of monthly subscription, you buy or rent each film exclusively. But it offers foreign films you can’t find easily, such as Oliveira’s 1982 feature Francisca, or 2018’s 14-hour La Flor.
Hulu is good. I have hbo and tcm channels on hulu.
It’s a shame that Tideland(2005) and Fear and loathing in Las Vegas(1998) are rotten on RT.A lot of ordinary and commercial films have a red apple and these two are rotten especially this one.Jabberwocky(1977)falls into this category as well.
@Malith– agreed- it is a shame. I don’t think Tideland will ever be saved by critics/cinephiles (and it isn’t amazing- so that’s not that big a travesty I guess) but Fear and Loathing is doing just fine now 20+ years later. It is on the TSPDT expanded list 1001-2000 (#1636)– still vastly underrated but that’s something
I watched this film a few days ago and thought it was great. You often complain about how critics focus too far on the narrative aspects of film and the RT critical consensus for Fear and Loathing is a perfect example of that: “Visually creative, but also aimless, repetitive, and devoid of character development.” I really hate the near-total dismissal of the film’s strengths, its visual style, here, in favor of narrative. It’s a fucking riot with incredible comedic performances from Depp and del Toro (becoming one of my favorite actors after viewing Traffic and Sicario in November) and it’s just amazing to look at. I feel critics generally have a bias (varies between slight and heavy depending on film) against comedies and towards dramas, which I can understand if you’re talking about say, Fockers 4-D or whatever. Leads to things like Some Like it Hot (not that I have anything against this film) as the 26th best film of all time, for example. That stuff.
At the end I mean towards narrative over visuals more than dramas over comedy in reference to Some Like it Hot.
@Zane– exactly! Yes- we’re speaking the same language here.
Jabberwocky(1977) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas(1998) have been released by the criterion.That’s great.Tideland can be saved by the cinephiles specially.It has a somewhat good rating on IMDb and a positive audience score on RT.Hope Criterion releases it.
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