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USA 2011
Directed by
Alex Gibney / Alison Ellwood
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search For A Kool Place

There have been various attempts to portray the acid trip on-screen – Easy Rider (1968) and its Roger Cormon-helmed precursor, The Trip (1967), come immediately to mind. Neither were particularly successful in this respect but at last we have a film that does it well – simply because it shows real people actually tripping. And not just any people but the Jesus Christ and apostles of mind-expanding experiences Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, who were turned into counter-cultural icons by Tom Wolfe’s 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' (1968)

Magic Trip is a superbly-crafted reconstruction of the famous 1964 trip (physical and mental) that Kesey & Co. took from their homes in Oregon and California to the World’s Fair in New York in a old school bus, psychedelically re-painted and named Further, and driven by Neal Cassady, who was the hero of Jack Kerouac’s Beat Bhagavad-Gita, 'On The Road' (1957).

The Pranksters filmed themselves, and although they did so surprisingly effectively given that they were stoned out of their gourds 24/7, the effort of marshalling the evidence into a full-length film proved too much (although they used footage in their “acid test” happenings) and after various failed attempts the raw film was stored away in the Kesey family home.  Kesey died in 2001 (of diabetes-related illness) and the directors Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood with the approval of his family have taken the surviving raw material and by interpellating additional archival material and voice-over commentaries (based on interviews with surviving Pranksters) fashioned it into a first-hand account of the trip and the most heady of times. Although I would have like to know more about the Pranksters as individuals, a better embodiment of the spirit of the times you’re not likely to ever get.




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