Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980 (Bill Murray), MCA/Universal
“He was … known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He remarked: ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.'”
I figured in this review of the notorious 1980 folly, the unprescribed medley of moments in the life of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam, I would adopt the persona of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. As long as the persona does not irritate, dear reader. Fishing cap? Check! Extra-long cigarette holder? Check! Hawaiian t-shirt? Check! In a phrase, he was celebrated for being celebrated.
His memories exist as a wild anecdote, only partially rendered impotent by the gross complications of a film director who has lost his personal sense of humor, and instead relented and choked from insatiable gasps of Bill Murray’s star power. He lives in a swanky cabin in Colorado. His fax machine belches, demands tasty portions of words, with which he is not ready to part. Instead he shoots the infernal machine, and sicks his Doberman on the tasty testicles of his Nixon effigy. He looks at a picture of his beloved hippy attorney, Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle) and remembers those times, some ten years back in San Francisco. Lazlo is an idealist. He defends the weak. Helps the helpless! He’s God’s own prototype! To weird to live. To rare to die. I know. I stole those words directly from the real Thompson, but I can’t help it. The man was such a brilliant fuck-face, it’s hard to imagine anyone (even Master Johnny Depp) portraying him in any meaningful way.
Lazlo spends a lot of his time defending young idiots on marijuana possession counts. I understand his reasoning. These are victimless crimes, but in trendy San Francisco, end-of-the-decade, with colleagues seducing him to the dark side; rich clients and cushy digs, Lazlo doesn’t care. In these all-important character scenes, we become convinced we’re watching the story of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer (which is probably interesting enough to work on it’s own) instead of a story about the celebrated icon. Lazlo is demoralized watching his clients sentenced to hard time in prison for what would amount to (in my view) petty misdemeanors, but such are the breaks in the world of the old and powerful. He flips out when a particularly young client gets five years in jail for possession of one joint. He’s held in contempt, while Thompson sits on a deadline and makes his editor (Bruno Kirby) pray for Lazlo’s swift release (and also for all the people of the world).
We move forward a few years as Thompson is covering the Super Bowl. I don’t think he has any interest in covering sports, but he runs up a huge expense account at the hotel where he is staying (including Crab Louie and sixteen grapefruit). He trashes the hotel room, dresses the staff in football equipment. and causes a ton of havoc on his floor. The next morning, Lazlo (wearing a Nixon mask) catches up with him. He stopped being an attorney full-time, and now cavorts with the younger set. Thomspon ditches his assignment to become Lazlo’s traveling companion. I wonder if, in these later scenes, Lazlo isn’t simply a figment of Thompson’s potent and overactive imagination. Lazlo tells him he’s been “reborn”, running guns for paramilitary types out of Mexico. Whatever floats your boat, Lazlo. He wants Thompson to write a story about the “struggle.” The movie is a push-pull of idealism and gluttony that never kicks into gear, mostly because I think those so-called revolutionaries of the time could never get their shit together in a worthwhile way.
The movie is a mess, editorially, with no flow except for episodic moments in which Murray crosses paths with Boyle’s Lazlo. For his part, Boyle is extraordinary, but he acts in a vacuum. Murray’s Thompson is a baroque caricature. While obviously devoted to playing this part (with some guidance from the real Thompson), he comes over as an inebriated middle-child with autism, hiding a feverish addiction to alcohol and other various substances. Despite good production locales and photography, Where the Buffalo Roam does no favors for the time period, and the social and the political unrest it attempts to show us. I often wonder if this is the beginning or the end of self-destructive behavior, as Thompson’s exploits become bigger and more dangerous with each scene change.
Later releases of the movie remove key bits of music, due to rights issues, and replace them with “sound-alike” tracks, which make the whole thing even more unbearable to watch. In retrospect, I had the same issues watching Terry Gilliam’s similar Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, however that movie improves on subsequent viewings, but Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy has been tarnished by his God-given desire to numb himself in any way he could. In a way, Thompson was his own prototype. Too rare to live, but always ready to die.
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.
This is the second part of my talk with actress/writer/new mother, Eve Kerrigan. Tonight we talk about the New Feminism, “Sociology of Style”, the myth of “white male privilege”, and the controversy surrounding the fraudulent Rolling Stone article and the University of Virginia.
“I didn’t peruse the site (“Sociology of Style”) that much, only when your writing was involved. It’s much more interesting for me to read people I know when they aren’t incredible celebrity icon-types, like say – I enjoy science fiction, so I read a lot of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlen, Arthur C. Clarke. I read bat-shit crazy stuff too like David Foster Wallace, but he’s very much Thomas Pynchon for me. He’s very hard to read and get – which, I think, would be a deficiency for a writer when the very act of reading you can be painful. He didn’t write books to be read for pleasure, unless it was some kind of pleasure I was not introduced to. I’ve enjoyed Stephen King for years. Dean Koontz isn’t terrible, he’s derivative, he’s lazy but he can be entertaining. ”
“I feel that women are fighting other women. They fight over beauty, over the concept of aging, over perceived youth, over their respective abilities. Just as all minorities tend to fight each other. Sometimes, in my libertarian mind, I feel that each supposed minority is fighting the other for the LOSER SWEEPSTAKES, like the old Yiddish joke about the Rabbi in the schul who tells his congregation, ‘we are nothing’ and the black janitor in the back of the Temple says, ‘yeah I’m nothing, too’ and the Rabbi points to him and says, ‘look who wants to be nothing!’ It’s an enormous persecution orgy, where everybody wants to feel as though they’ve been slighted in life and they’re competing to be the most oppressed.”
“My politics changed when my daughter was born. It was a slow erosion of my liberalism. I didn’t become a conservative. I don’t value any particular political party. I’m Pro-Choice. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe abortion is murder. I’m for gay marriage, but I believe homosexuality is wrong. I’m for the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, but I don’t use drugs, nor would I encourage or promote such usage. I think we can discourage the behavior without banning it. That’s what tolerance is about, for me.”
The audio clips that precede and follow the episode are once again, from the brilliant documentary about Harlan Ellison, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth”. There are two clips of Anne Rice and Stephen King speaking about their experiences writing.
by Eve M. Kerrigan
Ravnel Valpole is a hairy man, hirsute to the point of appearing wolfish. He has tried every method under the sun of hair removal and has a regular habit of attending electrolysis appointments which leave him with minor pimpling and scarring at his jaw line. He has heard of something they do with lasers that is supposed to work well but he needs to do more research on that.
This scarring, coupled with the size of his head gives Ravnel a tough appearance, but he is a kind man. His mud brown eyes do not, in themselves, endear him through a shine or attractive shape, but they do convey a warmth. He has crow’s feet when he smiles, which is often, and the thicket of hair on his head is combed to a Frederick Douglas-like coif. Ravnel is 6 foot 1 but he stoops, so he is 6 feet.
Ravnel works in the industrial design plant that makes Scrabble games. The letters from a Scrabble game require an influx of Vermont Maple on a daily basis that would dwarf the lumber stores of Home Depot. Once chopped, shaped, scored and lacquered by machine, the letters come out on a conveyor belt and uniformed workers sort them into bins.
Ravnel Valpole collects the letter S. He has over 500 Ss. He hopes to tile a floor with them someday.
He has been doing this job for 15 years. 15 years ago, he was in the military. 15 years before that he was in school. It was in that school he met is wife, Serafina. 10 years later they had a child, a boy named Stephen. It was 10 years later that his wife and child were killed.
They were camping in the White Mountains. Camping is the vacation retreat of the child-rearing poor and middle class. It’s free, it’s full of beauty, it’s peaceful and kids can run wild while they learn a thing or two. Meanwhile, the grown-ups can get a little nookie in the tent.
Unfortunately, on the Valpole camping trip, there was an unusual amount of rain when an unforcasted storm hit the mountain range. The three wet campers were hiking the 8 miles back down the mountain to get the hell out of the weather when a flash flood swelled the river and rose between them. Ravnel stood on one side of the rushing torrent and his wife and child struggled to stay standing on the other. The bank they were on broke off and turned to liquid before Ravnel’s eyes. They were gone.
Ravnel nearly drowned himself searching for them. A couple of rangers dragged his nearly unconscious body from the torrent. It was hard to say how he had lived. Often, as he stood sorting A’s from B’s and stealing S’s, he wondered why he had lived.
S for Serafina
S for Stephen
S for Squander
S for Sadness
S for Suicide
But today, Ravnel was not wondering why he had lived. Today, Ravnel was excited because it was the first day of cicada season. It had been 17 years since the cicadas had last hatched and inundated his unremarkable Pennsylvania town with their music.
Ravnel’s hobby (other than collecting S’s) was insects. He loved them. Bees were his favorite. He kept a hive of honeybees in a breezeway behind his apartment building. None of the neighbors knew it was there. He collected honey twice a season and left enough for the bees when the cold weather rolled in. He put honey in everything; tea, coffee, on toast, in warm milk, on pancakes, even in spaghetti sauce. He read about using honey for hair removal and wondered about it. That suited him. One day he would figure out how to shed his pelt with honey.
Another insect he loved was the mystical and mysterious butterfly. Butterflies began as caterpillars, small and fat as pinky toes. They did nothing while in that state but eat and eat and eat some more, munching all the leaves their slow, peristaltic journeys would deliver them to. Then, they sleepily spun their little cocoons and entered a prolonged sleep state. It was here that the Imaginal cells did their work. (Imaginal!) It was then that the caterpillar ceased to exist, preferring instead to become a gooey liquid inside the cocoon.
If you held one of these cocoons up to a light during this stage (and Ravnel had) you would not see the tightly swaddled invertebrate snuggling there like a tiny bound foot. You would see the shadow of a silvery ooze simmering at the bottom, hovering in possibility. And then, slowly, an entirely new creature would begin to create itself, eventually filling the cocoon to bursting. Only then would the resulting butterfly emerge.
Once its wings were dry, this newcomer would proceed to careen wildly through the air, drunk on pollen and nectar, copulating madly, picking up speed on its suicide mission. The whole thing made Ravnel shake his big, shaggy head. He didn’t know if it was crazier that it happened at all or that people went about their lives as though everything were normal.
And cicadas… The cicada also emerges from a cocoon after undergoing a maturation process within. It comes into the world with an insatiable appetite and a song to sing.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
So indelible was the sound of thousands of cicadas playing their strange tymbals that, even though he hadn’t actually heard it in years, summer always had a soundtrack of cicada song in Ravnel’s mind.
And they were coming! For the first time in 17 years! He read in Real Life Bugs & Insects that conditions were correct. So, Ravnel would be making the pilgrimage to a grove of Sycamores hidden in the middle of the ancient little wood that spread out behind his apartment building.
He deposited an S into the pocket of his regulation navy blue Dickies and shut down the belt. He punched out. He climbed into his Datsun and headed home where he ate a simple dinner of sardines, crackers and cheese. He put on the khaki fishing jacket he liked to wear when he was engaging in entomological activities because it held plenty of small specimen jars and a tiny net and still left room for a few pony-sized bottles of beer.
Ravnel grabbed his flashlight and headed out. The lightning bugs helped to show him the way down the path. He breathed deep and sighed at the evening’s dew on his skin. He disappeared into the night in a way he would never be permitted to disappear in his daily life. It felt good to not exist. He wondered if this is how an owl felt, observing from the trees with luminous eyes and a head that revolved to take in everything…
When he got to the grove of sycamores, he sat down and leaned up against one of the old trees. He opened a bottle of beer and looked at the sky full of stars.
Ravnel read once about a sailor out in the middle of the ocean at night who encountered an uncharacteristic calmness there. The sea, said the sailor, went utterly motionless and shimmered with the reflection of a million stars on its glassy surface. The sailor forgot which way was up, so surrounded was he by stars peppering the blackness, and he thought, for a few blissful moments, that he was floating in outer space.
Ravnel thought of this and decided it would be completely worthwhile to brave the mercurial ocean and all its dangers if you could be guaranteed that feeling for one moment.
He slipped his hand in his pocket and traced the curve of the beveled s on the smooth wooden square there. He closed his eyes and conjured the twin faces of Serafina and Stephen. They floated before him and suddenly there was a swell of song. It was a sound strung between symphony and tribal drumming. It beat like a heart and, rattled like a maraca (chchch cicada chchch cicada) and it cried for something out there…out there…out there… …
Ravnel woke with dew covering him, his fishing jacket chilly and heavy with the damp.
S for sunrise.
He stretched his stiff joints and got his bearings. He looked around, slipped his hand into his pocket.
He was about to stand when he felt a pain at his jawline, not unlike an electrolysis needle. He nearly slapped his own face in reflex but somehow had the presence of mind not to. Instead, he reached up and gingerly felt the place where the piercing was. His hand came back holding a creature, stubby and no bigger than a Scrabble tile. If it sat there long enough, a young cicada would sometimes mistake the landscape of human flesh for the nourishing surface of vegetation and insert its proboscis. In other words, it might bite you. It wasn’t an aggressive stinging, just a misplaced hunger.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
The two creatures surveyed each other, Ravnel with his mud brown eyes, mottled jaw and electrified shock of black and silver hair and, in his palm, this tiny pilgrim gazing back with large eyes and veinous wings still wet, translucent and green like a new spring leaf.
They stayed like that for a long time. Finally, Ravnel carefully placed the cicada onto a nearby blade of grass. He stood, breathed in deeply the scent of late spring and turned toward home. After all, he had to get to work. He instinctively reached for the S in his pocket and worried it with his fingers as he whistled his way through the woods.
S for Surprise
S for Satisfaction
S for Spellbound
S for Sentience
S for Spirit