I have mixed feelings on Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. On the one-hand, he was a brilliantly over-the-top, delightfully twisted individual, the sort of eccentric mix of persona and talent that only America could produce. Thompson chewed on his subjects in a manner that was fascinatingly grotesque; people everywhere try to imitate his voice as a writer, none of them do so successfully. The problem with Thompson is that his form of “gonzo journalism” has no place in the actual practice of journalism. The stories Thompson covered didn’t focus on the subject at hand, so much as they did on he himself. Everything Thompson saw was first and foremost filtered through his diluted mind, and what came out the other side was always interesting, and perhaps somehow insightful on some drug-fueled level, but never to be taken seriously.
A good example of this would be in his legendary coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign, in which Thompson spread baseless rumors in the pages of Rolling Stone that Democratic nominee hopeful Edmund Muskie was addicted to a hallucinogen called Ibogaine. Thompson later admitted that he completely made this up in an effort to discredit the candidate running against the ill-fated George McGovern, but other news agencies had already picked up the story, and ran with it. It can only be described as an ancestor to the immoral tactics employed today by the writhing cabal of naked mole rats over at Media Matters. Too bad that Soros’ Senior Pillow, Eric Boehlert, isn’t even a fraction of the writer that Thompson was (though he has desperately tried in the pages of Jann Wenner’s fading rag).
Another problem is with Thompson’s enduring legacy, and I think Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is mostly to blame. It took me awhile to come around, but I really do like the movie, which is coming to Criterion Blu-ray this week. Johnny Depp’s voice captures Thompson’s hallucinatory, paranoid prose perfectly. Gilliam’s background as an animator serves him well, as his translation of Ralph Steadman’s iconic illustrations into live action is nothing short of incredible.
The problem is that the overall wackiness of the film seems to drown out the big picture. College students latch on to Depp’s interpretation of Thompson, romanticizing the mad drug culture surrounding it, rather than the actual message regarding Las Vegas and its relation to the idea of the American dream. Another thing the college crowd likes to latch onto is the sixties hippie culture surrounding Fear and Loathing, and it gets embraced with open arms simply for having an association with said culture. Personally there’s nothing I find more obnoxious than sixties nostalgia in cinema, but Fear and Loathing gets away with it, mainly because it’s full of insane situations and bad trips that it rarely feels too sentimental in its overall tone. The only time it crosses the line is during the beloved “wave speech.” Thompson claimed it was the greatest thing he ever wrote, but I think it’s because it’s one of the only times he ever felt nostalgic while writing. Despite my cultural reservations, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a Hell of a movie, one I enjoy experiencing from time to time, just don’t let perspective on its subject fall by the wayside whenever you venture into Bat Country.
Another film getting a Blu-ray makeover this week is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s nightmarish spiritual fever dream of a western, El Topo. The western is cinema’s oldest genre, and it has undergone more permutations than can be mentioned here, but none of them are as odd as El Topo. Largely credited with creating the 1970 midnight movie craze in New York, El Topo is about a wandering gunman (played by Jodorowsky) who, at the behest of a woman he has rescued, sets out on a quest to defeat four legendary masters of the gun. This setup leads to a mad spiritual journey filled with religious symbolism, graphic violence, bunny rabbits that die for no reason, and lots of bees. He later finds himself in an underground cave filled with deformed pariahs who hold him up as a deity, he helps to liberate them, they find themselves at the mercy of murderous cultists, and, um, well…you’ll just have to see it for yourself. El Topo is a tricky movie to describe, it’s one that can only be experienced and digested individually. Jodorowsky is a director obsessed with religion, and his movies are almost always a comment on all kinds of religious forms and ideas, though I can’t really make heads or tails of it at this point. Fans of the western may enjoy it, or may find it to be a bunch of art-house nonsense. I still can’t decide what I think of it, but love it or hate it, there’s nothing out there that’s quite like it, and I like it when a movie takes me into uncharted territory. (Check out the trailer here, it’s a little odd though, so be warned)
Other Noteworthy Releases
The Holy Mountain: This was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s follow-up to El Topo. If El Topo is a movie that sounds weird to you, I can guarantee you that The Holy Mountain makes it look about as conventional and quaint as a Spielberg movie. Check out the brain-meltingly bizarre trailer here. Be careful, it’s not exactly safe for work.
Blow Out: I’m a big fan of Brian De Palma’s reworking of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up. Antonioni’s film was about a photographer who inadvertently captures a murder on camera. In Blow Out, De Palma switches it up with a sound designer (a young John Travolta) who accidentally records the assassination of a powerful political figure. From the delicious fake-out opening, to the memorable finale, this Criterion edition of De Palma’s thriller is a must-have for fans of this cult item.
Don’t Look Back: D.A. Pennebaker’s iconic “fly-on-the-wall” look into Bob Dylan’s life on tour is essential viewing for any fan of Dylan, but especially for any student of sixties pop-culture. This week, the special edition DVD from Docurama gets a Blu-ray upgrade.
South Park Season 14: Like The Simpsons, South Park is a TV show that soldiers on with no end in sight, however thanks to consistent involvement of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show hasn’t really hit a major dry spell, though it’s been a long while since I’ve watched it consistently.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno: Clouzot, the master behind films like The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, attempted to make what he described as his own personal 8 in the form of Inferno. Unfortunately, the production fell apart and the movie was never completed. This documentary explores the history behind the production, the reasons why it self-destructed, and gives us a glimpse into the film it might have been. For some reason, this documentary is only being released on Blu-ray, and not on DVD.
Available on Blu-ray
Dinoshark: These creature mash-ups were sort of cute in an ironic SyFy Original Movie hipster kind of way a few years ago, but now the intentionally-bad shtick is just, well, plain bad. I can’t wait for “Koalagator Vs. Walrusaurus” or whatever nonsense they come up with next.
This article originally appeared at Parcbench.com