I first read the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test not long after it first came out. Later I became aware of the fact that it wasn't entirely accurate. But it was accurate enough for me to get a pretty good understanding of what the movement was all about. Besides, I had the lyrics of groups like The Grateful Dead, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix as resources too. I don't blame Kesey and Owsley and others for being a little angry with Wolfe for getting a lot of things wrong; but people who didn't live in the San Francisco Bay area learned quite a lot from the book anyway, and mostly good things, in my opinion.
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.