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Where The Buffalo Roam


‘…as a showcase for Murray, and as an advert for drugs, it’s persuasive stuff….’

‘This ain’t a party, it’s a safari!’ shouts one of the many noisy characters in Where the Buffalo Roam, an early attempt to get the writings of Hunter S Thompson onto the big screen; later efforts include Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and even the animation Rango which liberally borrows from Thompson’s wise-ass persona. With spattery captions by Ralph Steadman, a desert rockabilly sensibility, and a druggy friendship between a gonzo journalist and a lawyer of dubious morals, it’s definitely Hunter S Thompson, arguably in a pure form.

Bill Murray is the big draw here, immersing himself in the part to portray Thompson; we see him wrestling with a magazine publisher’s deadline and flashing back to several stories from his acquaintanceship with Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle). Thompson doesn’t have much character development, his cigarette-holder, hat, garish shorts and sport gear are already in place, and his head is already somewhere else. But Lazlo changes; he’s introduced as a crusading lawyer fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, but later seems to have become some kind of arms dealer. The bulk of the film sees Lazlo disrupting Thompson at work, supposedly covering a Super Bowl from a hotel-room and then on the campaign trail with Richard Nixon. Both adventures lead to fact-free chaos, with the duo blasting Nixon with a fire extinguisher while riding the zoo plane of technicians and unfavoured journalists.

Gilliam went to great length to make Thompson’s hallucinations a visual reality, with bats, carpet creatures and all kinds of special effects. Art Linson’s film goes the other way; the drugs don’t work in terms of the audience, and we’re left with a cold watch as Murray and Boyle get convincingly loaded. There’s a scene in which Thompson and Lazlo pick up a hitchhiker who panics and runs for it after enduring some sinister chat; Murray is on point here, seemingly naked apart from sunglasses, rambling away in a convincingly druggy way. It may not be pretty, but it is honest; Thompson’s outpourings have rarely been so effectively visualised as when they’re not visualised at all, but left to our imagination.

Otherwise, there’s some very Murray moments here; the way the duo knock down a statue with their car captures the anarchic feel required, and their lack of respect for Thompson’s editor (Bruno Kirby) is also firmly on-message. There’s never been much love out there for the self-indulgence of Where the Buffalo Roam, but as a showcase for Murray, and as an advert for drugs, it’s persuasive stuff.


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  1. Interviewed Steadman once in an article that ended up in The Sunday Times and what he told me about Thompson and their hijinks was stuff that never got into any book or film.

  2. There were moments in the movie I thought the Marx Bros DuckSoup or Night at the Opera had been channeled . . . I met HST in Key West in 82 or 83? In retrospect, I’d rather have met Bill Murray. I recall there was a neon green glow to his tan. The entire bar comp’ed his drinks, and I swear it felt like he’d doped everyone that night. He drank Chivas, cuban coffee, Wild Turkey or Jeam Beam? and Tequila Bloody Mary’s. It felt like we were living the opening line from Fear and Loathing, ‘…we were somewhere….when the drugs began to take effect.’ I agree with you, Murray did an excellent job portraying HST; in fact, I think Murray continued to portray HST as a fragment of his personality long after the movie ended. Watch reruns of season 5 of SNLive… To get a fuller effect of HST’s hallucinations, try a snort or two of the green fairy…Absinthe.

    • Oh, yes, I’ve been pursued by hedges, the green fairy is generally a playful thing if respected…Murray changed his tune on drugs, but was clearly on board the HST express in the 70’s. At least when Murray developed a public persona as a survivor, it was clear that he knew what he was talking about from his own experience. I’ve got some HST stories on f my own, second hand, but private, I’ll save them for a less public forum. I think the big strength of this film is that it’s straight-up, no hypocrisy, and it gets a message across, whether you agree or not…

  3. Still can’t recall seeing this. I’m sure I never played Rango though. What’s with you and videogames? Are you going to do a CandyCrush review?

    I couldn’t access your live chat about My Beautiful Career. Will it be archived somewhere to watch?

    • My BRILLIANT Career! I’m doing it right now. Sitting at my virtual table, giving advice to youngsters like yourself just starting out in the biz…

      Videogames are cool, you should try it! What was the last one you played?

      • Heroes of Might and Magic. I liked the turn-based strategy games. Age of Empires was good too. First-person shooter I could never get into.

        Did you begin your talk saying that you don’t get where you got in the film business without making a lot of mistakes?

    • Movies about drugs are generally a pain, because it’s something going on inside someone’s head, so unless you unleash all kinds of visuals, it’s really just a private thing that doesn’t work on film. Just say NOPE!

        • Well played, I love several of these movies, so you are right to point out the contradiction. I guess my complaint is about bad movies that you’d need to be on drugs to enjoy. Fortunately many of these psychotropic extravaganzas are quickly forgotten…but too often, drugs are used as a lazy shorthand for excess, and given the hypocritical nature of Hollywood, which is awash with the stuff, it rarely makes for great cinema. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  4. Was this before or after Ghostbusters?
    Because I wonder if Murray’s run-in with the supernatural drove him to the drugs. He couldn’t handle the ghosts and turned to the only thing that could make it all make sense. Because when nothing makes sense, everything makes sense.

    It would certainly explain his What About Bob phase….

    • My guess is that it was the 70’s, and everyone was doing it. The death of Murray’s friend John Belushi changed all that…so yes, this was before Ghostbusters…

      • Ahhh, so the drugs made him see the ghosts. I understand it all now.
        I’m going to have to go re-watch ghostbusters with the understanding that it is all actually a drug induced hallucinatory experience by Murray. I should probably write up a thesis on it….

        • Kind of, but also kind of the opposite. Murray’s disinterested vibe in Ghostbusters is largely because he was straight off the set of The Razor’s Edge, which has a painful eulogy for his close friend Belushi. So Ghostbusters is very much a comedown movie…

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