Fear and Loathing at the KPA: In Defence of Hunter S. Thompson
How many nights have we spent enclosed within its walls, laughing, drinking, and living life to the full? I’ve lost track of how many pints I’ve ordered over the last 18 months but for the sake of my bank account, I think it’s better if I didn’t know.
‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!”’ – Hunter S. Thompson
Everyone has a little madness in them, but some have a little more madness than others. This certainly holds true in the case of Hunter S. Thompson. Johnny Depp, who portrayed Thompson’s literary alter-ego Raoul Duke in the film adaptation of ‘Fear and Loathing’, recalled his first meeting with Thompson as a highly surreal affair. According to Depp, Thompson burst through the door of a Colorado pub swinging a cattle prod in one hand and a stun gun in the other, shouting “Get out of my way, you bastards!” at the terrified patrons. After being introduced to each other, they spent the rest of the night shooting at propane tanks with 12-gauge shotguns. Thompson’s love of firearms was well documented, not least in a notorious incident in which he accidently shot his assistant while trying to scare away a grizzly bear that had wandered onto his farm.
To most readers, Thompson remains best known for ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.’ An autobiographical tale of drugs, motorbike races and the 1960’s counterculture, ‘Fear and Loathing’ popularised Thompson’s idiosyncratic brand of journalism (now known as Gonzo journalism) which involves a writer using themselves as a character in their own reporting. Such a technique proved highly influential and launched a myriad of imitators, with Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ being a particularly prominent example. The book was adapted into a film thirty years after its publication that drew deeply polarised reactions; Roger Ebert derided it as “a horrible mess of a movie” while Empire magazine currently lists it as one of the greatest films of all time. My advice would be to read the book before watching the film – otherwise you’ll find it impossible to follow what’s happening on the screen.