MAGIC TRIP: KEN KESEYS SEARCH FOR A
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Most of the voice overs by Ken Kesey have already been heard by the serious fans, however this DVD features a 55 minute audio recording (bits used throughout the film) in the bonus features of Ken's first trip at the psych ward. Wow. Worth it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you're not familiar with Kesey, this review might not be for you. Go read up a little or talk to an old hippy friend. If you are and find that era interesting, take a peek.
In some ways, this movie mirrors Electric Koolaid Acid Test. There's a little before the trip. A little about the Acid Tests after, and a nice short post script about his life afterward in Oregon. It's not just about the bus trip, but that is the central focus of the movie. It's a documentary, but not in the sense that anyone familiar with the story will learn much new, rather, it's a long awaited peek into the actual event, told through the original footage and recordings taken on the trip along with some short recreations and narratives.
Most of the world has heard the story, many have read it, but most of this footage has rarely been seen. It puts a face on the characters, fills in some blanks not covered by the book, (while leaving much out) and is a truly nice, humble homage to one of the true psychedelic pioneers.
How many people toured the country on LSD, met with greats like Alpert, Leary, Ginsberg, while Dean Moriarty (actually Neal Cassidy in real life) is driving a LSD and drug fueled bus filled with proto-hippies across the US to see the Worlds Fair in NYC in 1964?
Only one man could have pulled it off, because only one did. And along with a group of freaky, non-conformist artists and heads, helped spark a flame.
If you can scrape up 10 bux and a few like minded friends, maybe a good beer or two, take a look.
It's worthy of your time and deserves two thumbs up.
The most common criticism of the book, which apparently is fairly accurate, is that most of the book is written from the point of view of one Prankster: Sandy Lehmann-Haupt, who was a little crazy, and who had an ongoing disagreement with Kesey during the bus trip and after. But there are also other, non-Prankster, voices in the book. One of my favorite parts came from an interview with a woman who later became a journalist, if I rightly recall. She was at an acid test an accidentally took too heavy a dose. Luckily she bumped into a male friend of hers, and the two of them held onto each other to weather the psychedelic storm they were standing in the middle of. They pulled each other through, and the experience left an indelible impression on both of them. They became instant friends for life.
Kesey and Oswley and others resented Wolfe's mischaracterizations, whether they were inadvertent or not. Wolfe just didn't get it. He had no concept of what these states of consciousness were like and he never found out. I think he lived his whole life without even trying marijuana, which is fine. But he didn't have a clue to what he was actually writing about. His perspective was as a total outsider. He apparently tried to straddle the line between objective journalism and the kind of sensory detail that might be expected from a short story writer or novelist. But he really didn't understand the things he was trying to describe, so he got the Prankster perspective wrong in many ways.
Still, I've always enjoyed The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in spite of it's errors, and I've reread it many times. I didn't know they were errors when I first read it. And later when I discovered it, it didn't much change my impression of Kesey and the Pranksters. I had a positive view of them then and I still have a positive view of them today. But this film corrects many of Wolfe's errors. Ever since I first read the book I've yearned to see the film footage and hear the audio recordings from that bus trip. It's been about forty years since I first read it, and finally that dream has come true.
In fairly recent years I grew to understand that the remaining footage was in very bad shape and poorly organized, and that it would probably never be stitched together in any presentable form. Then I heard about this movie and I almost couldn't believe it! Maybe that's why I wasn't expecting very much. I was well aware of the technical problems involved with editing the footage into a presentable format. Beyond that, the bus trip was an experience that defied any medium of expression anyway. It was clearly one of those cases where you had to be there to truly get the picture.
Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I loved it. Some of it was dramatic reenactments, but they were faithful to reality. For example, there's footage showing "Stark Naked" as she's being lead through the halls of the hospital she was detained in. Obviously Kesey and the Pranksters weren't there to take the film footage. It was staged---as was a few pieces, here and there, of the audio dialogue---to fill gaps in the story. But I think it was done perfectly. And it was necessary for continuity. It's fairly easy to tell the authentic footage from the few parts that were dramatized. It's just a matter of using common sense. Plus there's a commentary track on the DVD.
And although some of the audio dialogue was dramatized as well, it was based on transcripts of interviews. So despite these unavoidable necessities, the movie very accurately portrays the events it depicts. And many of Kesey's friends and family advised the filmmakers so it would be as true to actuality as possible. If Kesey were alive today I'm sure he would have a few criticisms of it. After all, the trip was his *creation*. He said he felt the bus trip was more of a creative accomplishment than his first two novels. He was more proud of the bus trip. But I think he would realize it's the best that could be done considering the technological challenges involved.
I think most of the people who knew Kesey well would probably love this movie, and the rest are dead. Besides, there's a whole generation of aging hippies out there who've waited long enough! LOL Don't listen to the naysayers. If you've ever read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and liked it and wondered what the film and audio footage was like, this is a *must see* movie. Frankly, some of the film footage and still-photos were amazingly clear. The color was as vivid as if it had been shot yesterday. Some of it was a little shaky, and other footage was more grainy and washed out, primarily due to inadequate lighting when it was shot. But you have to take the good with the bad. Overall I was overjoyed with the finished product.
I also got a perspective on Neal Cassady that I never had before, based on what seems to be a very perceptive and poignant opinion of one of the female Pranksters (I forget which one). Back around 1989, Jerry Garcia gave an interview for Rolling Stone Magazine that I read as soon as it came out. When he spoke of Neal Cassady he said, "He could see around corners." The interviewer took his comment figuratively, and Garcia corrected him and said, "No, I mean he could actually see around corners. We'd be walking down a street and Cassady would say, 'I'll bet you anything that we bump into 'whatsisface' just around the corner, and he would always be right." [This is paraphrased, of course]. Apparently Cassady had some sixth sense. Anyway, one of the surprises of this film is that I think I understand Cassidy far better than I did before.
Thank God for Alison Ellwood and the whole film crew! This film is quite an accomplishment.
(Magnolia Home Video, 2011)
In 1964, novelist Ken Kesey became one of the forefathers of the 1960s' hippie scene when he and a bunch of friends took a beat-up old school bus, painted it in psychedelic colors, loaded it up with tape decks, sleeping bags, American flags, and an undetermined amount of mind-altering drugs (including lots of LSD, which was still legal at the time...) and set off on a cross-country voyage to discover America... or whatever. The trip was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" which transformed their spaced-out meanderings into the stuff of legend...
What most Merry Pranksters fans didn't know from the book was that Kesey & Co. had brought along a bunch of film equipment and shot a bunch of footage on the road. They knew nothing about film production, and even less about film editing, and the project languished for years, and was abandoned for decades after the film was chopped up, chewed over and given up on. Contemporary documentary producers got wind of it in the 21st Century and convinced the owners to let them re-edit the footage (which was challenging in part because the original film and soundtracks were recorded out-of-sync...) They took dozens of hours of raw footage and condensed it down into a coherent narrative.
In many ways, this is a for-devotees-only production: if you've read Wolfe's book, you'll want to check out this documentary -- this is the actuality to his sensationalized account, the real images of the mythic adventure. Several things may be striking: first off, how normal and "square" the original hippies looked: they were the bridge from crewcut, Eisenhower-Kennedy America into "the Sixties" as remembered and imagined in popular culture. Then there's the general shabbiness of the bus and its occupants: the idealized version you saw in your head is replaced by footage of real people, they're tired, bored, young, stoned and goofy. Their older, adult voices talk over the footage, remembering the bus trip with fondness, incredulity, and frequently with cynicism or scornfulness. The Prankster footage is contextualized by archival footage of other events: Kennedy's assassination, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, the Beat scene and, most deliciously, a sampling of some of the anti-hippie propaganda on the late '60s, when the lines in the Generation Gap were drawn. We also see footage of the first early "acid tests" (drug parties where the rough-cut footage of the trip were often projected) and pix of the house band, The Warlocks, who morphed into the Grateful Dead. All in all, it's a strong historical document, one that both re-mythologizes and de-mythologizes the pioneering elite of the hippie scene. The film's last third, which charts the trajectory of the San Francisco area hippie scene, and Kesey's own escape to Oregon... Definitely worth checking out. (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue film reviews)