"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" has divided audiences more sharply than any other movie of the festival’s early days—at least among the people I’ve talked with—and that’s hardly surprising, given the funkiness of its material and the extremity with which Terry Gilliam and company have treated it. Gilliam said at his press conference that he’s tired of "apologetic" pictures made with target audiences, marketing concerns, and PR ploys in mind, and it’s clear that he and his collaborators have avoided such pitfalls with extraordinary success—indeed, it’s hard to recall a major-studio release (leaving aside some of Oliver Stone’s work) that so vigorously pushes so many sociopolitical hot buttons without the slightest signs of concern for anything but the filmmakers’ own creative insights and impulses. The picture moves at a frantic pace from first frame to last (it was written almost as fast, in just a few days) and swings from Monty Pythonesque fantasy to circa-1970 nostalgia to drug-induced hysteria with the greatest of ease, glued together by little but its own hyperactive cinematics. The result is as close to hard-core cultural avant-gardism as Hollywood ever comes, and on these grounds alone the movie is to be applauded. Of course, this argument hardly sways people jolted beyond endurance by its most outrageous elements, from the incipient violence of its gun-freak scenes to the in-your-face misogyny of its most smoldering moments in the last half-hour or so. But in today’s ultracontrolled world of mass-marketed entertainment, a salutary dose of explosive extremism has undeniable therapeutic value, and this is exactly what Gilliam et al have provided.
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