Dreams: Fear and Loathing Production Notes
1971. The United States of America. It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times. Nixon was still in the White House. America was still in Vietnam. The year began with the aftershocks of the Beatles' break-up and a big earthquake in Southern California. It ended with Time naming President Richard Milhous Nixon "Man of the Year," depicted on the cover in the form of an angry, impatient papier-mâché bust, a collage of scary headlines about the state of the union.
The '60s were over, pronounced dead at Altamont, a free Rolling Stones concert in a motor speedway outside San Francisco where a young black man was stabbed to death by Hell's Angels stage-center to the tune of "Sympathy for the Devil" (coming to a theatre near you in 1971 as "Gimme Shelter"). The peace and love and innocence of Woodstock were history. Dead, too, were Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison -- three 27-year-old icons of rock 'n' roll -- gone within the space of one year, all attributed to drug overdoses. In a secret meeting with President Nixon, Elvis Presley offered his personal services as an undercover narcotics agent.
Good news for many was the death sentence for Charles Manson and three of his girl-gang members for the Tate-LaBianca murders which had augured the apocalyptic end of flower power in 1969. The '60s idealism had fast turned to cynicism-was there another logical alternative?
Bad news for some was Daniel Ellsberg's guerrilla pacifist action, the leak of "The Pentagon Papers," classified information on the Department of Defense's operations in Vietnam, made public in the pages of The New York Times and Washington Post. Later, we would learn of the bugging of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office by White House-directed "plumbers" and more devious "dirty tricks" applied to Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate. The American dream was becoming a nightmare. For one very serious journalist, the only sane direction to go was straight over the top and call it "gonzo."
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. -- Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). It started when I left Vegas that first time, skipping the hotel bill, driving off in the red convertible all alone, drunk and crazy, back to L.A. That's exactly what I felt. Fear and loathing. -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, January 1990
For the 18th century poet, William Blake, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." For sportswriter Raoul Duke and his 300-pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, the proud highway leads straight to Las Vegas in a mean crimson convertible dubbed "The Red Shark." Packing a trunkload of mind-bending pharmaceuticals along with an armory of herbal remedies, they're on a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream. Duke may call it an assignment. Gonzo may believe it's a sacred mission to protect his client. Whatever "it" is, it's moving, and fast.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the classic 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, has at long last been translated to the big screen by director Terry Gilliam, himself an audacious interpreter of 20th (and other) century manners in films like 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil and Time Bandits, as well as the epochal Monty Python series. Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands) stars as Raoul Duke, Thompson's manic alter ego, and Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, Basquiat) is Dr. Gonzo, his jurist sans prudence.
In addition, Gilliam has assembled a sterling cast of cameo players eager to devote their talents to Fear and Loathing as the bizarre cast of characters encountered by Duke and Gonzo on their surreal odyssey into the heart of the American Dream, among them: Ellen Barkin, Craig Bierko, Gary Busey, Cameron Diaz, Mark Harmon, Katherine Helmond, Michael Jeter, Penn Jillette, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Harry Dean Stanton, Tim Thomerson and musicians Lyle Lovett and Flea.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is produced by Laila Nabulsi (who worked with Hunter S. Thompson on The Curse of Lono and recently produced a well-received spoken word CD and stage production of Fear and Loathing), Patrick Cassavetti (Emma, Mona Lisa) and Steve Nemeth (Bad Manners, Denise Calls Up). Elliot Lewis Rosenblatt is the co-producer with the film written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni (Queen of Hearts). Gilliam's impressive behind-the-camera artists include director of photography Nicola Pecorini (a newcomer whose impressive body of work as second unit director/cinematographer includes Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha and Stealing Beauty); production designer Alex McDowell (The Crow, The Lawnmower Man); and costume designer Julie Weiss (an Oscar® nominee for her work on 12 Monkeys ). Lesley Walker, whose innumerable credits have included Gilliam's The Fisher King, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi and Douglas McGrath's Emma, is the film editor. Harold Bronson and Richard Foos serve as executive producers.
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