Take a Savage Journey with Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre as TABOO LA-LA presents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

Posted on: Sep 17th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LApresents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998); Dir. Terry Gilliam; Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro; Saturday, September 28 @ 10 p.m. (pre-show cocktails at 9 p.m.); Ages 18+ only; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time for Blast-Off Burlesque to tempt us with TABOO LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre! This time we venture into Bat Country with Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Gilliam for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

It’s easy to celebrate Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for all the wrong reasons. FAR too many people see him only as a caricature: senses blazingly altered by some high-octane combination of hard drugs and bourbon, firing his guns at anything that dares blink in and out of his peripheral vision and ranting unintelligibly at imaginary phantasms. For these people, he’s become a counterculture hero not because of his accomplishments or the words he’s written, but because of a persona.

Sure, it’s a persona that he called into existence and encouraged to a large extent. Why? Because, goddammit, you need a larger-than-life personality to stand up next to those works of his. You can’t be some milquetoast beat reporter and deliver epic pieces of immersive journalism like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” “Freak Power in the Rockies” or “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” Nor can you be a typical Washington Beltway insider and compose the incredible series of articles that would eventually make up FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72, perhaps the greatest piece of political journalism ever written. No, you’ve got to be a daredevil. You’ve got to be a shaman, using sacramental substances to achieve the frenzied mental state needed to venture into the heart of darkness and divine the inner essence of a situation. You’ve got to be the kind of drug-crazed madman who is unafraid to sacrifice accuracy on the altar of journalism to summon forth the Elder Gods of Truth.

And if you’re not that person, then you need to invent that person and become that person.

Which brings us to Raoul Duke and his journey with his personal attorney, Doctor Gonzo, into the godforsaken land of Las Vegas in 1971—the story of which would become Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark novel FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp find FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Thompson’s tale is actually a portmanteau of two trips into the desert city with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, lawyer and Chicano activist. The first was intended to be a retreat for the two of them to discuss an article Thompson was writing about the death of Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar. Thompson used an invitation from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to write a series of photo captions about the Mint 500 motorcycle race as an excuse, and the two of them descended onto the city.

250 words. That’s all they wanted.

Instead, he spent 36 hours straight, “feverishly writing in my notebook,” describing the pair’s wild adventures in Las Vegas and creating the expansive first part of the novel. And then, after the insane experience they undertook, they went back. Thompson took an assignment from ROLLING STONE to report on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held a few weeks later in Vegas, and further explored an idea that manifested during the first trip: that the rebellion of the 1960s had failed, and that the American Dream was now manifest in the crass, loud and materialistic oasis of Las Vegas.

Thompson combined the two trips into one story, which ROLLING STONE published as a two-part serial illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and which was later compiled into a novel. In creating what he admitted was “an essentially fictional framework,” Thompson assigned himself and Acosta pseudonyms: Raoul Duke (a nom de plume frequently used by Thompson and originally used as his byline for the ROLLING STONE serialization) and Doctor Gonzo. As for the book itself, it’s hard to say how much of what is written about is strictly accurate. It’s easy to say that the whole thing is true. What may have appeared at first as a wacky drug-fueled adventure turned into a work mournful of the failure of the ‘60s revolution, furious at the insane excess of artifice and celebration of the futile pursuit of money that is Las Vegas, and aghast that Vegas survived the revolution to stand in representation of the American Dream.

For years, the thing was regarded as being as unfilmable as NAKED LUNCH. Surreal, hallucinatory and depicting any number of illegal and violent acts by its protagonists, it just seemed to be too much to exist on a movie screen. Sure, they tried. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone both gave it a shot, but only one movie wound up being made in the wake of those early efforts. WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (which attempted to shoehorn “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat” and LAS VEGAS into one movie) starred Bill Murray, and was widely panned, particularly by Thompson himself. He praised Murray’s performance, but said the movie was saddled with “a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script.”

A direct adaptation eluded filmmakers for years, but that ended in 1998. After Rhino Films went through protracted tangling with director Alex Cox (whose screenplay Thompson viscerally hated), Terry Gilliam was brought on board to helm the film adaptation of the novel, and his surreal vision was a perfect match for the material. Though Gilliam had never used drugs, he researched the effects of all the chemicals used by the characters to create a series of visual effects that would mirror how the drugs would have affected their perception. The end result, while not exactly matching the horrifically ugly darkness of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations, stands on its own as a fully-formed take on Thompson’s subject matter.

Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro were cast as Duke and Gonzo, respectively, and both underwent extensive preparation for their roles. Del Toro gained 45 pounds and immersed himself in studying the life of Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Johnny Depp spent four months living with Thompson at his Woody Creek ranch. Depp assembled his wardrobe from Thompson’s clothes of the time, wore a pendant of Thompson’s that was a gift from Acosta, and shaved his head in imitation of Thompson’s own male pattern baldness. The research and work paid off in spades. Depp and del Toro inhabit their roles perfectly. While they may come across as slightly cartoonish exaggerations of both Thompson and Acosta, it must be remembered that the Duke and Gonzo of the novel are slightly cartoonish exaggerations of Thompson and Acosta.

More gonzo antics by Depp and Del Toro in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Terry Gilliam stated that he wanted the film to be polarizing—that he wanted it to be known as both the greatest and worst film of all time. And, thusly, it sharply divided critics: it currently holds a 50% average on the review aggregator ROTTENTOMATOES.com. Meanwhile, the film was a huge commercial failure. Filmgoers wanting to see the handsome Depp and del Toro got presented with a pair that were deliberately ugly. Filmgoers wanting to see a modern drug comedy wound up with something less a comedy and more a tragedy. And filmgoers wanting to see the Thompson perpetuated by DOONESBURY’s Uncle Duke character (and practically every other mass media depiction of the author) wound up with the only-slightly-fictionalized Thompson of the book, which is far closer to Thompson the man than Thompson the caricature.

Thankfully, due to home video releases, the film has built up a large, faithful audience, and it’s that crowd which is invited to the Plaza Theatre as Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LA brings us a screening of Gilliam’s adaptation. The pre-show kicks off at 9 p.m. with complimentary cocktails served up in the lobby, and then things kick into high gear with a live stage show from Blast-Off Burlesque featuring special guests Tom Jones, Elvis (somehow I’m guessing that these might not be the actual Tom Jones and Elvis) and Batastic. There will also be a Gonzo Costume contest and an Ether Walk contest with prizes from Libertine and the Cherry Blossom Salon, as well an art display of Lucy’s Barbara Streisand portraits! So come down and enjoy one of the greatest films of the 1990s while celebrating Hunter S. Thompson for all the right reasons.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Pop Culture Birthday to Remember: DeWitt Dawson on the Lost Art of Wrestling Management and Crowning the Champ of Monstrosity Championship Wrestling Fri. March 1 at Famous Pub

Posted on: Feb 28th, 2013 By:

Our BFF blog Wrestling with Pop Culture is celebrating its second anniversary with the biggest, baddest Monstrosity Championship Wrestling match yet this Fri. March 1 at 9 p.m. at Famous Pub in Toco Hills. The horror-movie-inspired league is crowning its first champion, Professor Morte and the Silver Scream SpookShow gang will be on hand for scary shenanigans and Metal Gaga will be providing unforgettable entertainment with heavy metal versions of Lady Gaga hits. Oh, and lest we forget, you’ll have another chance to win a Pine Street Market box of meat and other fun prizes in the raffle! All that and more for only $10!

The night’s fearsome and fun festivities include semifinal matches pitting the Phantom against “Bona Fide” Fred Yehi and Papa Marko against “The Undead Luchador” Supernatural! Witness a queer bar brawl where previous Kool Kat Johnny Danger and Dragula take their fight against the intolerant Alabama Wolfman and Kentucky Wolfman all over the bar! Quozzy Quozzbourne promises to bring a St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun to the party, Dark Mon vows to preach his own Easter sermon, and well, they tell us there’s much, much more.

We interviewed Jonathan Williams, the monster-mind behind Wrestling with Pop Culture, last year for WWPC’s first birthday, so this time we asked him who else will be the Koolest Kat in the bar. He suggested DeWitt Dawson, better known within wrestling circles as “Double D,” who will be managing Fred Yehi in the MCW tournament and also manages some of Georgia’s other top wrestling talents from Universal Independent Wrestling in Villa Rica, NWA Atlanta in Locust Grove, etc. After all, as Jonathan notes, “managers are kind of a lost art in wrestling.” So it was a special treat to ask DeWitt not just to go behind the scenes for a preview of this Friday’s action but also about what it takes to be a wrestling manager, what he loves about the sport and how he became a master at his craft.

ATLRetro: What role do you play as a manager?

DeWitt Dawson: Simply put. I am the eyes, the ears and the mouth for my charges. I am the best foot forward outside the ring, so all they have to think about is what goes on inside them ropes and turnbuckles. If they need to be somewhere, Double D gets ’em there early. If they need to leave somewhere, Double D gets ’em out before the first blue light hits the scene.

How do you select the men you manage?

I am looking for folks who can benefit from my counsel as much as I can benefit from their talent. Nothing under the sun is free but bad advice, and the ole Alabama Icon don’t give out nothing but golden nuggets of wisdom. So that must be repaid with championships. I am not here to manage folks who might get it, or who can get it done. I only open up my waiting arms to them that need that extra push to not just be good, but to be great.

Who do you manage?

Little darling, my clientele is not hard to validate, but I ain’t going to make it that easy on you. The bricks that are building Double D’s Empire are ever increasing. If you really want to know who I am managing, start taking stock of the titles that sit on the waists of the champions in this state, and I bet you won’t have to look far to see Dewitt Dawson somewhere close by.

What attracted you to professional wrestling?

Honey, you would have a whole heap less work if I told you what didn’t attract me to this business, ’cause I can honestly say that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with professional wrestling. One of my earliest memories is a young Double D huffin’ and weezin’ trying to catch his breath in the wee morning hours having my first asthma attack. I didn’t know up from down or Hell from Heaven, and the only way my lovin’ mama could get me to calm down was to tell me that she bet all the wrestlers that I loved so much were up getting ready to be on TV that Saturday morning. That settled me right down, and you can bet your last money that I went to the emergency room and got back home in time to see Ko Ko B Ware on the TV that morning.

I guess [as] a youngern,  it was the crazy characters that I loved – the Ultimate Warriors, the Stings and the Blue Blazers of the world. As I got a little older, I was infatuated with the talkers – the American Dreams and Nature Boys. After that it was the showmen – The Heart Break Kids, the RVDs and the Eddie Guerreros. These days, it is the driven ones who ain’t making a penny over the bare-ass minimum, but they still go out there and put on a hell of a show for the people – the Shane Marxes, the Jagged Edges and the Demigods of the world.

From whom do you draw inspiration?

My inspiration comes from the folks I mentioned just now and from the red clay and white fields of the great state of Alabama. Everybody wants to know why I sound the way I do and say things that they ain’t never heard before. Simply put, it is because these roots run right through the cotton fields and contradictions of Alabama the beautiful. I draw as much inspiration from my brother The Pretty Boy, and Donnie Tidwell, and my uncles, and my mama nem as I do Dusty Rhodes and Shawn Michaels.

How is wrestling different now than in your youth?

I know a lot of people will tell you how everything has gone plum to Hell with wrestling over the last few years, and they make some fine points. But when you get right down to it, good wrestling is the same as it ever was. You tell a good story, somebody gets their ass whipped, and you do it all again the next week.

Which crowds are your favorite?

A paying one. What other kind of crowd is there? Hell, I got a closet full of shotguns that ain’t as loaded as that damn question. But if you got balls big enough to ask it, I got balls big enough to answer it. The only thing that a wrestling crowd needs is passion and a little bit of sense. As long as they got their eyes focused on the action and their mouths open and yelling at who they don’t like and cheering who they do like, they will be just fine. They ain’t got to know every damn hold under the sun, and they ain’t got to be able to name all the damn Villanos to have a good time so long as they ain’t dumb enough to try to put their hands on me and they don’t [think] they’re smarter than everybody else there, then I bet they have a good time.

Why aren’t you a nicer man? Have you considered therapy?

I am as gentle as a pussy cat in the right environs. When I settle into here at the ole home place and I pull off my boots, pop the top on a Paul Bryant beer, cut on them ole Drive-by Truckers, I tell you I am as sweet as pumpkin pie. Because of that, I don’t have no reservation about raising pure hell every time I am anywhere near a squared circle, and the only therapy I need is to see my Empire bathed in the gold of champions.

What are your ambitions in wrestling?

My only ambition in wrestling is to give this business half as much as it has given me and to burn a trail in Georgia that makes General Sherman look like a lightning bug in a damn super nova.

What appeals to you personally about Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW)?

On any night at a MCW show, you ain’t got clue 1 as to what in the blue Hell is going to come through that curtain next. It might be one of the best technical wrestlers you ever laid eyes on, or it might be some kind of half-dead zombie-assed sasquatch monster. You might not know whether to clap your hands or clinch pucker your assshole. It is just like ole Double D; you don’t what you are going to get, but you know good and well it is going to be entertaining as all get out.

What are you looking forward to the most about MCW this Friday?

Aw honey, that is simple. We are going to crown our first champion, and that is always a special occasion in any wrestling show’s history. When you look at the folks that are still kicking in this tournament, then you know it is going to be a champion who is plenty worthy.

Why should even someone who is not a big wrestling fan attend?

Well, if you like drinking cold beer, your ort to be there. If you like womerns who ain’t bashful about showing you a little of that thang, you ort to be there. If you like that damn banging and clanging or some kind of heavy metal outfit, you ort to be there. If you like boxes of meat, you ort to be there. And if you would like to hear the golden voice of the best damn commentator that you have ever heard in your long-legged life, you damn well better have you asses front and center.

A special thank you to Kool Kat Chuck Porterfield for his help with this article.

All photos are courtesy of DeWitt Dawson. All rights reserved.

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