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, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The story follows its protagonist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend on Las Vegas to chase the American Dream through a drug-induced haze. The novel first appeared as a two-part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971.


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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Plot

Journalist Raoul Duke and attorney Dr. Gonzo travel from Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1971 to cover a motorcycle race for a sports magazine and enjoy a haphazardly planned vacation. The vacation turns highly irresponsible and reckless as the two consume copious amounts of illegal drugs, commit various acts of fraud, and generally reap mayhem upon the citizens of Las Vegas.

Set in Las Vegas, a symbol of American consumer and tourist culture, during the height of the Vietnam War and the closing of the 1960’s counter-cultural movement, Duke and Gonzo find themselves as outsiders in a unique position to analyze the present state of America and chase down the “American Dream”.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Origins

The book is largely a fictionalized account of Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta's actual trip to Las Vegas around the same time period. In real life, Thompson was to cover the Mint 400 motocross race for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1971, for which he was contracted to write photo captions. Coincidentally, he was also commissioned to cover a Las Vegas law enforcement convention for Rolling Stone magazine.

Before being asked to cover the race, Thompson was in Los Angeles, reporting on the murder of Reuben Salazar and the race riots that resulted from his death. Acosta was a prominent figure in the Chicano community and therefore a natural source for Thompson's story. Finding it difficult for a Hispanic to talk openly to a white reporter in L.A.'s tense atmosphere, Thompson and Acosta decided that Las Vegas would be a more comfortable place to work on the story. Thompson later wrote the majority of Fear and Loathing in a hotel room in Arcadia, California during his spare time while he finished writing the Salazar story for Rolling Stone (later published as Strange Rumblings in Aztlan) .

What was intended as a 250-word photo-captioning job/road trip snowballed into a novel-length feature for Rolling Stone magazine in November 1971. The text was eventually published as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel was heralded as the "best book on the dope decade" by the New York Times and a "scorchingREAD MORE

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Themes

The book was an attempt to place the radical activism and drug culture of the 1960s into the context of the (then) present-day mainstream American experience. It explores the idea 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.

Throughout the novel, the main characters go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess. Much of Las Vegas is used to symbolize the ugliness of mainstream American culture, to which the characters give little respect. In the DVD commentary of his film version of the novel (See Below), Director Terry Gilliam characterizes these actions as a theme of anarchism.

Some have suggested that the book's themes resemble those of The Great Gatsby, which deals with the state of the American Dream and the lives of the rich and careless. Others have surmised that the white Cadillac the pair drive (referred to as the "White Whale" in the book) is an allusion to the white whale inREAD MORE

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: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. Released on May 22, 1998, it only earned about US$10.5 million at U.S. box offices (it was budgeted at approximately US$18.5 million) but has since become a cult classic.

The lead actors undertook extraordinary preparations for their respective roles. Del Toro gained more than 40 pounds (18 kg) 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 Chevrolet Caprice convertible, known to fans as the Great Red Shark, and drove it around California during his preparation for the role. Many of the costumes that Depp wears in the film are actually reproductions of genuine pieces that Depp borrowed from Thompson, and Thompson himself shaved Depp's head to match his own natural male pattern baldness. Thompson also had a brief cameo in the film as his character, portrayed by Depp, has a flashback to a San Francisco music club, The Matrix, where Thompson can be seen sitting at a table as Depp walks by narrating his inner monologue, "There I was ... Mother of God! There I am!".

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 director of the project, he rejected the Cox/Davies screenplay. 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 were involved in writing the film, despite what it says in the credits.

Thompson's disapproval of the Cox/Davies script treatment is documented in the film Breakfast with Hunter, wherein he rails against the writers for planning an animated portrayal of the "wave speech" in the original book, which he considered "probably the finest thing I've ever written." By the time Fear and Loathing was released as a Criterion Collection DVD in 2003, Thompson showed his approval of the Gilliam version by recording a full-length audio commentary for the movie as well as participating in several DVD special features.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Trivia

An image of Johnny Depp as Raoul is shown on the 1,000th issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.
A song, titled "Bat Country", by Avenged Sevenfold, was inspired by this movie.
Industrial group Velvet Acid Christ used numerous samples from the film in the song "Fun With Drugs."
An episode of G4's X-Play parodied the movie as hosts Adam Sessler (dressed as Raoul) and Morgan Webb traveled to find missing cartidges of the E.T. video game.
During the final highschool 'Prom' in the film "Never been Kissed", two students can be seen in the background dressed as Raoul and Dr. Gonzo.

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