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Dreams: Fear and Loathing Production Notes


At once a brilliantly idiosyncratic commentary on what Hunter S. Thompson referred to as "the foul year of Our Lord, 1971" and a decidedly exaggerated account of a personal odyssey careening in between the hilarious and the horrifying, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has today become required reading on many college campuses. Gonzo journalism is landmark literature, an aberration of the "New Journalism" of the '60s.

It hit stands on October 10, 1971 on the cover of the fourth anniversary issue of Rolling Stone (#95), which introduced to readers not only the inspired works of Hunter S. Thompson, but the demented illustrations of Ralph Steadman. After the second part of the series appeared the following month in RS96, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream became the premiere offering of Jann Wenner's Straight Arrow Books, jolting critics to acclaim. A series of Thompson/Steadman adventures went on to capture pivotal moments throughout the '70s (the Presidential campaigns, the Super Bowl), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas entered the American vernacular, like Kleenex or Drano.

The fact that the book remained unfilmed for more than 25 years is a testament to its singularity and perhaps to the notion that it was waiting for the right filmmaker. And so, when Terry Gilliam made himself available to apply his unique talents to the material, it was a perfect marriage: a work by one of America's most visionary writers, brought to the big screen by one of film's most visionary directors, mostly set and partially shot in one of the world's most peculiarly visionary cities.

Most of Gilliam's previous films, including Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys -- not to mention the entire Monty Python series and motion pictures thereof -- indicate a belief that madness is ultimately the only way in which otherwise sensitive and perceptive human beings can deal with the insanity of the world. Beyond these thematic concerns, Gilliam's abilities to create the impossible on film with his extraordinary visuals and sure-footed dramaturgy -- as clearly demonstrated throughout his career as a ground-breaking director, writer and animator -- are an appropriate match for the ever-shifting "realities" of Thompson's book, in which the utterly surreal becomes almost commonplace.

Thompson's astonishing debut tale of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on a journey he took with friend and associate Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, a noted Chicano lawyer and activist, ostensibly to cover for Sports Illustrated a popular off-road race, the Mint 400, in that City of Eternal Dreams known as Las Vegas. "My idea," wrote Thompson, "was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as it happened, then send in the notebook for publication -- without editing... But this is a hard thing to do, and in the end I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a piece of straight/crazy journalism."

"As true Gonzo Journalism," continues the good doctor, "this doesn't work at all -- and even if it did, I couldn't possibly admit it. Only a goddamn lunatic would write a thing like this and claim it was true." In other words, what had started as pure Gonzo Journalism -- described by Thompson as "a style of reporting based on William Faulkner's idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism" -- accelerated into one of the most amazing works of fiction in the second half of the 20th century, and, per the above definition, one of the truest as well.

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has all the elements of classic mythical stories," notes producer Laila Nabulsi, whose 15-year-long quest to get the book onto the screen has finally been fulfilled. "Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo are the two anti-heroes that go to hell, take the magic cookie, tilt at windmills and survive, and we go through that journey with them. It's scary, it's funny, and what was true in the early'70s is just as true today. The book is really about capturing a piece of that time just before the worm started turning. It was the Last Trip. "But the book is ultimately about hope," Nabulsi stresses. "Hunter was finally saying that despite everything, let the good times roll...because it's the only way we can survive."

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