I Saw a Film

This film came out just before I actually read any Hunter S. Thompson which I got around to in late teenager years (my dad referred to him as jaundiced), and so I remember it as a kind of hilarious buddy bender movie. Thompson for those who did not delve into his fear and loathing on the campaign trail stories (Nixon) or his experiences with the Hell’s Angels should probably read him, but the best I can tell you is he tended toward a larger-than-life lunatic excitement that was heavily influenced by copious drug use, firearms, rock and roll and a passion for professional sports. I should add that while he’s a hoot to read, you probably wouldn’t want to know him personally, as many of his activities slide off the mountainside of his persona into chaos and terrifying threats of violence. Stories abound of his self-indulgent attitude, and especially his antics running for office.

This old movie which was made and released while I was still a middle school student, and was still banging my head on walls because I hated looking up (I was so dedicatedly a floor watcher, I cracked skulls with a lovely girl I nursed a crush on for a while. We both held our heads laughing about the chances of such an injury occurring-I wish I could tell you this was how I meet the love of my life, but it was not the case), that aside, 1980 was such an ugly forgettable period in US history that I can barely comprehend people’s reverence for nostalgia. Reagan was about to reign for almost the entire decade. If you look very hard you’ll find some cool music, absolutely, but it’s all British and we American kids were still being inculcated with compact cars and Farrah hair. I however adored Bill Murray (hell we all do, even today) and this film certainly embraced a spirit of irreverence (who doesn’t love irreverence?) which spoke deeply to my caged soul (a soul if not caged, was at least tremendously anxiety ridden). I loved it, I wanted to live it. I was a bit concerned about the drug use, but not about the shirking of duties, the waving about of firearms, the psychotic babble, or the pseudo-revolutionaries associated with Lazlo (HST’s attorney/buddy). I had also, somehow not registered that the Lazlo was played by Peter Boyle (who had once filmed a movie at my dad’s place of work, a vaccum furnace company back when Boyle played “Joe” in the film Joe (1970) alongside a gorgeous Susan Sarandon (Dad didn’t meet her). I have yet to watch that film as it sounds miserable.

Here’s the bad news, Where the Buffalo Roam is terrible. As a fantasy it lacks any delicious moments of powerful satisfaction in any sort of universal desire (wealth, sex, creative satisfaction, power) and as a portrayal of the activities of a couple of off-the-wall loons it feels less compelling than the average episode of M.A.S.H., and is difficult to believe, and so we’re maintained in this netherworld of hardly believable yarns that never quite erupt into anything beautiful. Which, frankly, is a bit too much like our lives, where stupid shit regularly happens that leaves us totally unfulfilled. Take for example the silly sequence of “Dr. Thompson” randomly drawing blood from a reception nurse. Are we meant to chuckle at his boldness in convincing the poor woman to allow him her arm, or are we supposed to be horrified that he stuck her with a needle from his filthy bag of illicit recreational drugs? Does he actually prick the poor lady? Is her odd reaction actually appropriate? Or consider the blacksploitation of HST and his attorney as they trade their Superbowl tickets and press passes for a pimp’s hat and bottle of wine. We’re later subjected to a sequence right out of Darktown Strutters as the dudes get themselves on TV interrupting a live broadcast “jiving” and showing off their passes. These bits don’t age well, and I found myself cringing.

There is a bit of unbearable music from Neil Young, who provides an ugly acapella version of the old folk tune “Home On the Range”, and a couple of fuzzy guitar riffs of same. All the actual incidental music is the real deal from Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and a back to back pair of Hendrix tunes.

Perhaps Murray and company should revive HST (now dead a few years) and could do justice to a fine retrospective of some of his actual efforts that might cover a bit more faithfully what his work was about. This old film tried too hard to be a classic buddy comedy and really ended up looking like a broken National Lampoon adventure.

This’ll run you four bones on Prime, but I suggest you look elsewhere for your fix. Murray would tweak this performance for Carl the groundskeeper in Caddyshack, a perfectly wonderful film.

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