MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, 119 minutes)
That’s the trouble when they make a movie out of one of your life-changing books. I’d had a similar problem with seeing The Grapes Of Wrath and On The Road for the first time after revering the print versions. The characters I’d envisioned weren’t much like those on the big screen. It took a third trip through Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas before I came to terms with Johnny Depp’s somewhat guttural voice of the main character, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson—and the lack of the book’s beyond-visionary, ink-smeared illustrations by Ralph Steadman.
Like the novel, the movie opens with Raoul Duke (Thompson) and his “attorney” (Benicio Del Toro) roaring through the Nevada desert, headed toward Las Vegas in a powerful 1971 Chevy Impala convertible. The top’s down and the trunk’s loaded with weed, mescaline, coke, blotter acid, amyl nitrate, assorted uppers and downers, booze and a tank of ether, all purchased with the cash advance from a magazine for Duke to cover a big motorcycle race in Vegas. It’s an assignment, they must have reckoned, in keeping with Thompson’s first book where he tried to imbed himself with the Hell’s Angels.
“I feel a bit light-headed. Maybe you should drive,” says Duke, squinting into the sun through aviator sunglasses and swatting away at a swarm of Mesozoic era-sized bats, dive-bombing the car. He performs a full-speed, gravel-spewing stop, worthy of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and gets out as small reptiles scurry for cover. There’s no reason to tell his attorney about the bats, Duke concludes. “The poor bastard will find out soon enough.”
As the car tops out at 100 miles an hour, a blond, long-haired kid in a T-shirt carrying an overnight bag appears on the side of the road, standing next to a giant saguaro cactus and thumbing a lift. The attorney mutters, “Let’s give him a ride,” and slams on the brakes. Jolted into semi-coherence, Duke screams, “What?! No!!” It’s too late. The kid is already running toward the car, in utter delirium. “Hot damn! I’ve never rode in a convertible before!” he shouts. “Get in,” smiles Duke, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and floppy golf hat, his teeth gripped around a cigarette holder. Janis Joplin And Big Brother wail away on the FM radio, and the kid is already having second thoughts as he sits down in the back seat.
“How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy?” ponders Duke. “What will he think when he realizes this is the same desert that was the last-known home of the Manson Family? Would he make the connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats? If so, we can’t turn him loose. We’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere in the desert.”