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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Shop Around: Living La Vida Goo Goo Muck: Monster Art Studio’s Jeff Riggan Whips up a Surreal Visual Sideshow for the Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2013 By:

Just another reason Atlanta has become Halloween-Town, USA is the Rock and Roll Monster Bash  Sun. June 2 at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte, the fiendishly fun festival of macabre music and movies is now in its 11th year. Highlights include MONSTROSITY CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, live music by six bands, a souped-up hearse show, and two classic horror features in 35 mm majesty, THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975), starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine and John Travolta, as well as Sam Raimi‘s EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), starring Bruce Campbell‘s chin and a chainsaw. [Read our Retro Reviews for THE DEVIL’s RAIN here and EVIL DEAD 2 here].

Another big reason to come is a vicious vendors market, featuring a wide variety of cool monster-themed and Retro-inspired merchandise from vintage cult movie ephemera to vintage clothes, Gothic jewelry to BBQ and booze. One of our favorite discoveries last year was artist Jeff Riggan, who had just moved himself and his Monster Art Studio up to Atlanta from Florida. We’ve been running into him at various street festival art markets, and his work has never ceased to impress us, from stuffed sideshow freaks Slugmo and Squidboy to gigantic tiki/tropical-themed works or a mega-painting of Lux Interior of The Cramps!

A professional artist for nearly 30 years, Jeff has painted approximately 30 murals for Orlando-based Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurants, as well as created sets, sculptures, murals and large scale artwork for the Universal theme parks, Six Flags, WonderWorksNickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and more. He and his work has been featured in many publications, local and national news, as well as several television shows.

Needless to say, Jeff’s tent will be one of our first stops at the Bash this year, but ATLRetro also is horrifically happy to report that’s just one of his nefarious plots to do his part in making Atlanta the official monster capital of America!

ATLRetro: You’ve got some big plans for this year’s Rock N Roll Monster Bash, such as a scarily special photo op, I hear! What can you reveal in advance without giving away any spoilers?

Jeff Riggan: There will be blood.

As I recall, last year was either your first Monster Bash and you were pretty excited about being part of it. What’s your personal favorite thing about Monster Bash and why it’s a not-to-be-missed Atlanta event?

Last year Monster Bash was our first festival in Atlanta, and it opened the doors for me.  Monster Bash is a great venue for people with a freaky passion for art,  music, classic horror movies.

How did you first get into painting monsters? Does it go back to when you were a kid? Is there a cool story?

Listening to punk rock, skateboarding. Sid & Marty Krofft polluted my mind, Evel Knievel got me amped and Bob Ross had a painting show. That’s how it all started!

Who was your first favorite monster growing up and why?

[Maurice Sendak‘s] WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. It laid rest on my mind until I started making my stuffed creatures.

You’ve done murals, 3-D art, sides of buildings, all sorts of crazy stuff. What were one or two of your most fun projects and why?

I worked in the theme park production industry for over 15 years, which was an amazing experience. I would have to say the most fun I had was in my own backyard, so to speak, painting murals for a local co-op in Florida, all over the outside of their buildings. They let me have the freedom to express myself. One of my most favorite was painting a three-story high Great Dane. I also enjoyed traveling from the Florida Panhandle to Chicago painting murals for a corporate restaurant – I was given free reign to paint whatever I wanted.

In addition to monsters and murals, you paint music-inspired art such as your recent Cramps and tiki-stuff. How do you describe your art and what are the limits of what you enjoy creating?

I listened to music before I began painting, it was a creative outlet for me until I discovered I was an artist. It’s a tangible way for me to express myself. They are intertwined, art and music. Lux Interior, Unknown Hinson, Hunter S. Thompson – in my own interpretive way.

You used to live in Florida. What brought you to Atlanta and when exactly did you move up here?

I came here as a leap of faith in May 2012. Monster Bash was our very first show here in ATL , so [I and my wife Emily] have been here for one year!  It was an immediate overwhelming sense of belonging – everyone we met said “Welcome to Atlanta.” True Southern Hospitality!

Atlanta has a huge horror scene now. What do you think of it, and how is the local fervor for horror inspiring/affecting your work? 

I think it’s amazing.  It definitely challenges me. I’ve also met some cool people – Tim [Mack] from Imperial Opa Circus, Chris Brown of Macabre Puppets – that have inspired me.

You seem like the kind of guy who must have an amazing studio. Can you describe it and what you keep around to inspire you?

Eyeballs, skulls, torsos,  “souvenirs” from dumpster diving and exploring old buildings, machine parts, trailers, bicycles – Fred G. Sanford would be envious!

Didn’t you some movie work here lately?

I just finished working on THE CIRCLE, an independent horror film, with Beth Marshall, Tripp Rhame, Ben Jacoby and Tom Hamilton. Forrest Hill and I built props, special effects, and build the sets  We worked out at the old prison farm on Key Road, near the Starlight Drive-In.

What else are you up to right now, and what’s the next event at which you’ll be exhibiting/selling your work? 

A featured spread in Stuffed Magazine with my felted circus freak creatures – Slugmo and Squidboy. We’ll be at the Strut [Sept. 21] in East Atlanta and then…..who knows!  My sets/booths are becoming more and more elaborate, and I am always adding new stuff.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do? And what is the answer? 

Hey, can we pay you for your ideas, you just create stuff? The answer is YES!

The 11th annual Rock and Roll Monster Bash kicks off at 10 a.m. Sunday June 2 and runs all day and night at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Get their early to stake out the best parking spots. Bands include Alice Cooper tribute group Black Juju, Baby Baby, a reunion of The Butchers, Dracula (singing the hits as only he can!), Spooky Partridge and Metal Gaga (the lovechild of Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden!). Advance tickets are available at http://www.ticketalternative.com.

To purchase artwork year-round or contact Jeff about custom paintings, set design and more, visit Monster Art Studio online.

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