Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, which describes the protagonist's (Raoul Duke, a fictionalised representation of Thompson) chasing of the American Dream to Las Vegas through a drug-induced haze with his attorney (Dr. Gonzo, based on real-life Chicano lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta) in tow. It is based on his attempted "coverage" of the Mint 400 motocross race for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1971. Prior to receiving the offer to cover the race, Thompson was in Los Angeles reporting on the murder of Reuben Salazar and the race riots that it touched off. Acosta was a central figure in the Chicano community's response to the situation and a natural interview for Thompson's story. Finding it difficult to talk openly to a white journalist in the tense and paranoid atmosphere of LA, Thompson and Acosta decided that a trip to Las Vegas would afford them the security needed to complete the story (later published as Strange Rumblings in Aztlan) as well as providing a fantastic opportunity in itself.
What was intended as a 250-word caption snowballed into a novel-length feature for Rolling Stone magazine in November of that year. The novel was heralded as the "best book on the dope decade" by the New York Times Book Review and "A scorching epochal sensation!" by author Tom Wolfe. The film version, released on May 22, 1998, only pulled in about $10.5 million at the US box office (it was budgeted at approximately $18.5 million) but has since become a cult classic.
In his book The Great Shark Hunt, Thompson refers to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as "a failed experiment in gonzo journalism," a guerilla style of reporting that Thompson made famous throughout his career. Allegedly based on William Faulkner's idea that "the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism—and the best journalists know this," it blends storytelling, fiction, and traditional journalism in an attempt to dig out truths beyond the truth of the subject of the article. As Thompson tries to discover what the 1960s meant and what was in store for America in the future, the central message of the book is that 1971 was a turning point in hippie and drug culture in America, the year that the innocence and optimism of the late 1960s turned to cynicism and burn-out. The book bears more than a passing resemblance to The Great Gatsby, which deals with parallel themes: the state of the American Dream and the lives of the rich and careless.
- We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.
- There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. ... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. ... And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. ... So now, less then 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.
- We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers ... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. [...] The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge- and I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
- We can't stop here...This is bat country!
- I stomped on the accelerator and stayed right next to them for about two hundred yards, watching for cops in the mirror while my attorney kept screaming at them: "Shoot! Fuck! Scag! Blood! Heroin! Rape! Cheap! Communist! Jab it right into your fucking eyeballs!"
- Terrible things were happening all around us. Right next to me a huge reptile was gnawing on a woman's neck, the carpet was a blood-soaked sponge - impossible to walk on it, no footing at all. "Order some golf shoes," I whispered. "Otherwise, we'll never get out of this place alive. You notice these lizards don't have any trouble moving around in this muck — that's because they have claws on their feet." [...] "But what about our room? And the golf shoes? We're right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody's giving booze to these goddamn things! It won't be long before they tear us to shreds. Jesus, look at the floor! Have you ever seen so much blood? How many have they killed already?" I pointed across the room to a group that seemed to be staring at us. "Holy shit, look at that bunch over there! They've spotted us!" "That's the press table," he said. "That's where you have to sign in for our credentials."
- You approach the turnstiles leading into the Circus-Circus and you know that when you get there, you have to give the man two dollars or he won't let you inside... but when you get there, everything goes wrong: you misjudge the distance to the turnstile and slam against it, bounce off and grab hold of an old woman to keep from falling, some angry Rotarian shoves you and you think: What's happening here? What's going on? Then you hear yourself mumbling: "Dogs fucked the pope, no fault of mine. Watch out!... Why money? My name is Brinks; I was born... born? Get sheep over side... women and children into armored car... orders from Captain Zeep."
- There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.
- Bazooko's Circus is what the world would be doing every Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This was the Sixth Reich.
- Look, there's two women fucking a polar bear.
Film version (1998)
The film version was directed by Terry Gilliam and starred Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. Both actors were cast by the film's original director, Alex Cox, who wrote the original screenplay with his longtime collaborator, Tod Davies. When Gilliam became attached to the project as director, he rejected the Cox/Davies screenplay for various creative reasons. Thompson himself disliked it and did not approve of Cox's approach to the movie. Gilliam then decided to attempt his own screenplay with collaborator Tony Grisoni . When the film approached release, Gilliam learned that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) would not allow Alex Cox's and Tod Davies' names to be removed from the credits even though none of their material was used in the production of the film. Angered over having to share credit, Gilliam left the WGA and, on certain early premiere prints of the film, made a short introductory sequence in which an anonymous presenter assures the audience that no screenwriters, whatsoever, were involved in writing the film, despite what you may read in the credits.
Thompson's savage disapproval of the Cox/Davies script treatment is documented in the film Breakfast with Hunter in which he rails against the writers for their planned animated portrayal of the 'wave speech' in the original book, what he considered "probably the finest thing I've ever written" (see Notable Quotes, above). By the time of Fear & Loathing's release on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection, Thompson's approval of the Gilliam version manifested in his recording of a full-length audio-commentary for the movie as well as his participation in several of the special features.
The lead actors undertook extraordinary preparations for their respective roles. Del Toro gained more than forty pounds before filming began, and extensively researched Acosta's life. Depp lived with Thompson for months, doing research for the role as well as studying Thompson's habits and mannerisms. Depp even traded his car for Thompson's red Cadillac convertible, known to fans as the Great Red Shark, and drove it around California during his preparations for the role. Many articles of the costumes that Depp wears in the film are genuine pieces borrowed directly from Thompson, and Thompson himself shaved Depp's head to match his own natural male pattern baldness. Thompson also appears in a brief cameo in the film as his character, portrayed by Depp, has a flashback to a San Francisco music club where Thompson can be seen sitting at a table as Depp walks by commenting "Jesus! There I am!".
- The Great Thompson Hunt
- Comparison of Terry Gilliam/Tony Grisoni and Alex Cox/Tod Davies screenplays for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
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