Magic Trip, 2011.
Directed by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood.
A documentary following famed author Ken Kesey and ‘The Merry Band of Pranksters’ on their acid-fuelled cross-country road trip across America to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
This documentary of novelist Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and his band of ‘Merry Pranksters’ could not have been titled anything else other than what it is; ‘Magic Trip’. A trip across the United States in a multicoloured bus whilst tripping LSD. And it must have been, er, ‘magic’ for those involved.
But what about us, the viewer? Is this documentary insightful, intelligent, and educating? The answer is yes, if you’re a fan of the era and the rise of the drug-fuelled creativity of the early 1960s. Thankfully, I am, so I can recommend this for DVD consumption; yet unlike the recent When You’re Strange, the The Doors documentary, this doesn’t have the same cinematic quality, but remains a good way to spend 100 minutes.
As a film lover, what I found most striking was the 16mm colour film footage which the various members of Kesey’s gang shot on their travels. The footage has been restored by the directors Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, and this is obviously a work of personal importance to them both, and they have done their very best to synch the dialogue to the footage which has perished over time. Where perhaps visuals and audio were not available to show as a whole, actors provide voiceovers reading the original transcripts of the Merry Pranksters, which is presented as an interview with Stanley Tucci asking the ‘questions’. Again, this is an interesting way to get the most out of the footage available.
The scene I found the most entertaining, and also slightly odd to watch, was the audio recorded when Kesey took part in LSD experiments at his University. He describes the tape recorder as a frog and sees blinding lights in the ceiling, whilst we watch some very creative visual images depicting the mind-bending words he uses to describe his trip. Moreover, one line which stood out was on his defence of taking LSD; he describes the landscape in his mind as one untouched by humans and without any footprints. Poetic stuff from the man who wrote one of America’s greatest literary works of the modern era.
As the film draws to a close, there is a poignant scene showing the once lively bus now abandoned and covered in moss and rust. Those days could never last forever.
VERDICT: 7 OUT OF 10. A trip worth taking.