Objectivity: A Question of Perspective

In reference to whether or not the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson as portrayed in the 1997 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas offers any kind of objectivity, my classmate Catherine Dumas says:

Hell yeah, a lot more that the journalism that we get on a daily basis through our media. A lot of our media is controlled by some Australian dude, Rupert Murdoch.

While I tend to agree with Catherine on some level, I think we need to start with whether or not objective truth exists before answering this question.

Truth is constructed via the gathering of facts and means nothing without the connectivity of those facts through narrative. Since narrative is always written from a particular point of view, there can be no objectivity without the influence of culture whether it be race, gender, political affiliation, sexual preference, etc. That said, I say no form of writing offers objectivity. Regardless of any stated effort to achieve it (the phrase “fair and balanced” comes to mind), journalism is used to persuade the public toward a particular viewpoint.

Has anybody seen “The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of the News?”

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Rocket Fuel for Thought

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasLet me strap on my lizard tail, take a few hits of adrenachrome, and scrawl for you my musings. [Moments later?] Whoa. Right on. Here we go.

The question: Substance abuse… Writing fuel or writing substitute?

I say fuel.

Granted, the stigma of alcoholism and addiction adheres itself to the stereotype of writers. What drunks! What freaks! What introverts plagued by the pain and suffering of their own humanity! Sure, we?ve had a few of these throughout history. But really, doesn?t Poe?s addiction produce some amazing literary results? Writers, often referred to as seers, don?t necessarily like what they see. To observe the human condition at a deeply personal level can produce extreme depression, particularly when the writer sees no way out of the social confines that trap him or her. Think Oscar in?Wilde. Addiction, even when detrimental love is the drug of choice, becomes the fuel used to examine the world around him. Narrative requires conflict, and those who are deeply conflicted have a great deal of material to work with.

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Fear and Loathing Sounds Off

Having read the chapter on sound rather than film editing for April 3rd (DUH), I have formulated these ideas with our viewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in mind. On one hand, this puts me ahead of the game by writing a week in advance, and yet I am also a week behind by missing the freshest corresponding film material made available to class. Please pardon.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasI found an original script of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and have included the first portion of the first scene below. Highlighting the sounds mentioned within the text, they include everything from the wind, car tires, music, screeching bats, characters screaming, news, voiceovers and narration. This montage of reference to sound doesn?t include what might be assumed by the action, from slamming car doors and trunks to crinkling plastic and popping tops of bear cans. (Although, in the 70s, these were pull back tabs, they still popped from the pressure of carbonation.)

To illustrate what a sound editor might consider, I marked the direct reference to dialogue in red, narration in green, prerecorded music and news in blue, and implied sounds in orange. In doing so, I found it eye-opening to see just how much editing and mixing is involved in such a short span of film. This, by no means, covers the full spectrum.

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Gonzo Editing

(This week’s observations stem from Richard Barsom’s Looking at Movies, “Chapter 6: Editing,” a viewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and?a personal account of family feud.)

I?m fascinated by the ways we, as humans, make meaning from images. Whether presented on their own, in a pair or a group, the story often changes when contextualized by what surrounds that central image. If anyone has ever done scrapbooking, you know that three well placed images on a page, and not necessarily in chronological order, can epitomize an entire event, whether it be a child?s birthday party, a wild night out on the town, or a child?s wild birthday night out on the town.

Welcome to the opening montage of Terry Gilliam?s 1998 film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A series of black and white images flashes before us: a helicopter, a Vietnam protest, and other faded war time images alternating with a repeated black screen covered with thick, wet and vibrant spattered blood. We immediately think of fresh death, destruction and civil unrest.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasOnce in that frame of mind, we?re hit with the jarring contrast of a long shot showing a pristine, cherry red convertible flying down the straight and narrow highway. Who is driving? Cut to a humorous image of drug induced driver/journalist, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and passenger/lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro). We not only see the main characters, and I do mean characters, we also enter their LSD induced world as our view of them is contorted through the distortion of a fish eye and barrel lens. Next, Duke repels his invisible bat hallucinations with a fly swatter. The scene then cuts to a real bat casualty lying dead in the road. The audience has just left their own sense of reality and specifically entered that of Duke?s. Welcome to the 70’s.

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Bullets Over Barton; Barton Over Broadway

Bullets Over?BroadwayIn the Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath 1995 film, Bullets over Broadway, fictional playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is on par with fictional playwright turned screenwriter Barton Fink (John Turturro) in the Coen brothers? 1991 film of the same name, Barton Fink. Each character is conflicted by the stereotypical questions that face all authors, such as:

? From where, what or whom does inspiration come?
? What constitutes art, one creator?s original idea or collaboration?
? What is the value of art or artist and how is that value recognized?
? In what ways does the art belong to the author as well as the audience?
? At which point does that private to public transference take place when dictated by capitalism?
? Does this transference to the public realm devalue the art, the artist, both or neither?

What makes each character?s experience realistic in both films is the fact that their moral and ethical struggles in relation to the convergence of idealistic art and life?s monetary motivation are born out of authentic human experience.

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Actor! Actor!

Richard Barsam?s Looking at?MoviesMoving into “Chapter 5: Acting” of Barsam’s Looking at Movies, it’s interesting to learn about the ways in which acting techniques have evolved in relation to increasing capabilities of technology. Moving from theater to silent film, to camera with sound, to sound separate from the camera has provided increased actor/audience intimacy and morphed into more natural character portrayals over time.

Forest Whitaker as Idi?AminWhile this reads as a natural progression, what this technological growth has meant for acting is a regression from a more naturally performed, chronological performance. At present, many takes and set-ups are required and dependence upon location determines the shot sequence rather than narrative order. It?s no wonder that Forrest Whitaker made such an effort to be Idi Amin in Kevin McDonald’s The Last King of Scotland, off the set as much as on. The vast number of performance interruptions can only be a distraction from the feel of the story as a whole. Amin, as a man, was so intense that to slip in and out of character would have been far more difficult than to sustain that constant level of intensity.

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