Where the Buffalo Roam

Where the Buffalo Roam is a 1980 comedy film based on a number of semi-biographical stories written by author Hunter S. Thompson. The film loosely depicts Thompson's rise to fame in the 1970s and his relationship with Chicano attorney and activist Oscar Zeta Acosta.

Art Linson directed the picture, while Bill Murray portrayed the author and Peter Boyle portrayed Acosta, who is referred to in the film as Carl Lazlo, Esq. A number of additional names, places, and other details of Thompson's biography are also changed in the film.

An obituary Thompson wrote for Acosta, The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat, which appeared in a October 1977 issue Rolling Stone magazine, serves as the basis of the film, although screenplay writer John Kaye drew from several other Thompson works, including Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Great Shark Hunt and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson served as "executive consultant" on the film.

The film opens in the Rocky Mountains on the Colorado ranch of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a journalist furiously trying to finish a story about his former attorney and friend, "Carl Lazlo, Esq."

Thompson then flashes back to a series of exploits involving the author and his attorney.

In 1968, Lazlo is fighting to stop a group of San Francisco youngsters from receiving harsh prison sentences for possession of marijuana. He convinces Thompson to write an article about it for Blast Magazine. Thompson's editor, Marty Lewis, reminds Thompson that he has 19 hours to deadline. The judge hands out stiff sentences to everyone, and the last client is a young man who was caught with a pound of marijuana and receives a five-year sentence. Lazlo reacts by attacking the prosecuting attorney and is then jailed for contempt of court.

The magazine story about the trial is a sensation, but Thompson does not hear from Lazlo until four years later, when he is on assignment covering Super Bowl VI in Los Angeles. Lazlo appears at Thompson's hotel and convinces him to abandon the Super Bowl story and join his band of freedom fighters, which involves smuggling weapons to an unnamed Latin American country. Thompson goes along with Lazlo and the revolutionaries to a remote airstrip where a small airplane is to be loaded with weapons, but when a police helicopter finds them, Lazlo and his henchmen escape on the plane while Thompson refuses to follow.

Thompson's fame and fortune continues. He is a hit on the college lecture circuit and covers the 1972 presidential election campaign. After being thrown off the journalist plane by The Candidate's press secretary, Thompson takes the crew plane and gives straight-laced journalist Harris from the Post a strong hallucinogenic drug and steals his clothes and press credentials. At the next campaign stop, in the airport bathroom, Thompson is able to use his disguise to engage The Candidate in a conversation about the "Screwheads" and the "Doomed". The Candidate tells Thompson to "fuck the doomed".

Thompson, still posing as Harris, returns to the journalist plane. Lazlo then appears, striding across the airport tarmac in a white suit. He boards the plane and tries to convince his old friend to join his socialist paradise somewhere in the desert. After causing a disturbance, Thompson and Lazlo are thrown off the plane and Lazlo's papers that describe the community are blown across the airport runway. Lazlo, presumably, is not heard from again.

The action then returns to Thompson's cabin, just as the writer puts the finishing touches on his story, explaining that he didn't go along with Lazlo because "it never got weird enough for me."

* Bill Murray as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
* Peter Boyle as Carl Lazlo, Esq.
* Bruno Kirby as Marty Lewis
* Rene Auberjonois as Harris from the Post
* R.G. Armstrong as Judge Simpson
* Mark Metcalf as Dooley
* Craig T. Nelson as Cop on stand

In the late 1970s, movie producer Thom Mount bought the film rights to the obituary of Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, "The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat", written by Hunter S. Thompson for $100,000. At the time of casting, Bill Murray was a very popular cast member of Saturday Night Live. He was a friend of Thompson's and took the lead role, making the movie while he was on summer break from the show.

Thompson said when he sold the rights he figured the film would never get made, adding, "Then all of a sudden there was some moment of terrible horror when I realized they were going to make the movie." He was eventually brought aboard the film's production as "executive consultant". "I signed away editorial control from the beginning," he is quoted as saying to the Rolling Stone College Papers. "I wandered around and fired machine guns on the set." The film was the directorial debut for producer-director Art Linson and was the fourth film he had produced.

During production, Murray and Thompson engaged in a series of dangerous one-upmanship contests. "One day at Thompson's Aspen, Colorado, home, after many drinks and after much arguing over who could out-Houdini whom, Thompson tied Billy to a chair and threw him into the swimming pool. Billy nearly drowned before Thompson pulled him out."

Murray immersed himself in the character so deeply that when Saturday Night Live started its fifth season, Murray was still in character as Thompson. "In a classic case of the role overtaking the actor, Billy returned that fall to Saturday Night so immersed in playing Hunter Thompson he had virtually become Hunter Thompson, complete with long black cigarette holder, dark glasses, and nasty habits. 'Billy,' said one of the writers, echoing several others, 'was not Bill Murray, he was Hunter Thompson. You couldn't talk to him without talking to Hunter Thompson.'"

Ralph Steadman, who illustrated the original editions of The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and other of Thompson's works, also did the artwork for the movie poster of this film and drew the title cards for the movie.

The movie opened on April 25, 1980 in 464 theaters, earning $1,750,593 in its opening weekend and $6.6 million for a total lifetime gross.

It has been panned critically for being a series of bizarre episodes strung together rather than having a cohesive central plot. "The movie fails to deal convincingly with either Thompson's addictions or with his friendship with Lazlo," critic Roger Ebert wrote at the time, but Ebert also noted that "this is the kind of bad movie that's almost worth seeing".

The film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes lists the film as "rotten" with a 20% favorable rating among critics.

Universal Pictures quickly pulled it from distribution. Thompson hated the film, saying he liked Murray's performance but that he "was very disappointed in the script. It sucks – a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script." It has since gained a following through broadcast on cable television and VHS and DVD releases.

The film was scored by Neil Young, who sings the opening theme, "Home on the Range" with just his acapella voice and harmonica. Variations on "Home on the Range" are played by Young on electric guitar as "Ode to Wild Bill" and by an orchestra with arrangements by David Blumberg on "Buffalo Stomp". Music in the film included rock and R&B songs by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Temptations, the Four Tops and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Additionally, characters played by Bill Murray and Rene Auberjonois sing lyrics from "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

Because of the high cost of music licensing, both VHS and DVD releases have retained only the Neil Young score and the Creedence song, "Keep on Chooglin'", with the rest of the music replaced by generic approximations of the original songs. Only the theatrical release contained the songs found on the soundtrack. The choice of songs for the dvd version was controversial, since it featured 80's songs in a 60's and 70's setting.

The soundtrack album was released by MCA Records in 1980 as a vinyl LP and included bits of dialogue from the film. It is not available on CD. The tracks on the album were:

1. "Buffalo Stomp" – performed by Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of Strings
2. "Ode to Wild Bill #1" – written and performed by Neil Young
3. "All Along the Watchtower" – written by Bob Dylan; performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" – written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; performed by Bill Murray
5. "Ode to Wild Bill #2 – written and performed by Neil Young
6. "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" – written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong; performed by The Temptations
7. "Home, Home on the Range" – written by Brewster Higley and Daniel Kelley; performed by Neil Young
8. "Straight Answers" (dialogue) – performed by Bill Murray
9. "Highway 61 Revisited" – written and performed by Bob Dylan
10. "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" – written by Holland-Dozier-Holland; performed by the Four Tops
11. "Ode to Wild Bill #3" (plus dialogue) – written and performed by Neil Young
12. "Keep on Chooglin'" – written by John Fogerty; performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival
13. "Ode to Wild Bill #4" – written and performed by Neil Young
14. "Purple Haze" – written by Jimi Hendrix; performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
15. "Buffalo Stomp Refrain" – performed by Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of StringsPermission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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