|Index||6 reviews in total|
I only had 2 issues with the film as presented - 1) the film moves at a
breakneck pace trying to cram what was likely hundreds of hours of film
into 90 minutes; I wanted many scenes to last longer - 2) I would've
liked a 'where are they now' sort of bookend for more of the pranksters
(only Kesey's and Cassady's post-prankster lives are detailed).
I thought the footage was gorgeous - the film must've been well taken care of over the years. It was really fascinating to see America circa 1964 in full color (most footage from that era is black & white).
I want to re-read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test after buying this DVD and refer back and forth. It really does breathe new life into Tom Wolfe's book; although, the film stands on its own.
One of the most fascinating segments of the film was early on when they delved into how Kesey was turned onto LSD. They describe the whole experience and provide audio recordings taken as Kesey was under the influence in a hospital where LSD experiments were being conducted.
I understand many will take issue with the pro-drug message, but whether you like it or not, the subject of the film and the footage itself is a big part of history. There is something to learn and appreciate no matter where you stand.
Magic Trip is a real-time documentary, cobbled together from
40-year-old film, about a cross-country trek just prior to the big
hippie invasions of the mid-to-late 1960s. It's a time capsule, and
it's a highly informative one for those of us who weren't there. It's a
jumping-off point to explain the lovefests, the Be-Ins, the protests,
the marches, the Woodstocks, and the Altamonts. It's a relic of its
time as well, but it's also a genuine look at a mostly far-gone time.
It's 1964. The sixties, we're told, didn't really begin in 1960 (or 1961) but rather in November of 1963, when Kennedy was killed. The nation's innocence was lost, and the younger souls - our baby boomers - looked for something to help guide them into the future. The plastic days of picket-fenced houses and nuclear families were disappearing. People needed something new. That something new, it turned out, was LSD - a perfectly legal substance at the time.
Ken Kesey was the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a writer of some reknown. In '63, he and a few friends were visiting New York City and witnessed the preparations for the following year's World's Fair. Kesey, who lived in Oregon, determined on the spot that he'd grab some people and make a trip across America to the fair. The group would up too big for a station wagon, so an old International Harvester bus was procured and customized, including plenty of filming equipment. The bus was painted in an array of bright, friendly, psychedelic colors, and off they went.
The group called itself the Merry Pranksters, and everyone had his or her own nickname. Along for the ride was Neil Cassady. Never heard of him? You should read Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road; the character of Dean Moriarity was based on Cassady. Cassady was a real character, a speed-taking oddity who drove like a maniac and had zillions of stories to tell. All he needed was an audience.
Like most documentaries, this movie will be enjoyed best by those who were present during that era and by those who wish they were. If you're not emotionally invested in the story, you might think you're watching a bunch of wackos on drugs careen about the country, having sex every three seconds and dropping acid. You'd be right, but you might not enjoy it much. And surely not as much as the participants did.
If I recall, the movie uses nothing but the footage shot during the trip to New York, with some new narration by actor Stanley Tucci. This lends quite the feel of veritas to the proceedings; it's exactly like watching home movies, at least if your family is a little deranged. But drugs or not, what's interesting is that we see hardly any real conflicts - people get along, for the most part, even when some leave the trip before reaching the final destination. It's a good-vibe film, and none of it feels manufactured.
I guess that's what I find most appealing about Magic Trip. It's honest, and it's fun. It gives you a glimpse into those sometimes twisted times - times, it should be noted, look like a cakewalk compared to what we have now. In '64, we weren't even heavily into Vietnam, and the anti- hippie tone had yet to sweep the nation. The bus got pulled over numerous times, but since hippiedom was so new, cops just figured the occupants were college kids out having fun. Ah, for those times now.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MAGIC TRIP. Long before Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper headed off on their motorbikes to find America in the ground breaking cult classic Easy Rider, author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, etc) and a group of friends set out on their own epic journey across America in a psychedelic coloured school bus. It was 1964, in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, and Kesey and his friends, known as the Merry Band of Pranksters, headed off from California to visit the World's Fair in New York. Along the way we also meet a number of other notable figures of the time, including poet Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, author Larry McMurtry, and Jack Kerouac, regarded as the father of the Beat movement. The legendary trip (!) was also chronicled by novelist Tom Wolfe in his The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey filmed the journey on his 16mm camera, but the film has never been released because it was too disjointed and unfinished. The footage was found in a barn at Kesey's house after his death in 2001. Veteran Oscar winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, Client 9, etc) and his regular collaborator Australian born editor Alison Ellwood have re-edited Kesey's raw footage, giving the freewheeling material structure and context. They have added a number of interviews and incorporated some fascinating archival footage to provide insights into the era. They have also used original recordings made by Kesey himself during the journey, with some additional narration from Stanley Tucci. With a soundtrack of rock music from the era, Magic Trip serves as a fascinating time capsule of America in the mid-60s Kennedy, Vietnam, civil rights, hippie subculture, LSD, paranoia, disillusionment, youthful rebellion, and a growing air of cynicism. Magic Trip is a well made and entertaining documentary that gives some insights into the burgeoning counter-cultural movement of the 60s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a home movie without producer, director, script or a casting director. Originally it was 100 hours long; You read right. Repeat: 100 hours long. Here it is cut down to 90 minutes. It should not be compared in category to professional documentaries in terms of ratings or quality. It has it's own category. It was never meant to be shown in a professional theater. However, it was screened in a professional theater in San Francisco and New York for a short length of time, about 10 days. I saw it in San Francisco in a theater. I liked it. And another viewer I interviewed liked it. She said to me, "I remember THOSE PEOPLE on the campus at Stanford." It was made for Ken Kesey's friends to "goof on" while they took psychedelic drugs, socialized, and stayed overnight at Kesey's home in La Honda, CA. It's a feel-good home movie to be seen on a Sunday afternoon. It will not send you on an LSD trip. The added blues, jazz, rock music with graphics tie this home movie together, and embellish it. It was more than I expected as a result of these additions. Also you will see Martin Luther King, the JFK assassination, and civil rights movie clips. That day JFK was shot certainly evoked the emotions you will see in this film. I know, I was "there" and 16 years old at this time. Please understand that early 1964 was a very sad time, complete with the Russians threatening nuclear war against the U.S. every month. The Vietnam War was beginning. There were civil riots and angry people in the streets. And young people wanted some happiness in their lives, somehow. They wanted to play, be crazy, have some fun before getting married. Many found it with Ken Kesey. This movie has added narration that sometimes reveal a truth, a judgment, about the characters on board the bus named "Further". This message is not always positive; these comments add some depth to these characters of the 60s. And this would be the major reason you would want to see this film. The soundtrack for the voices of the friends in the movie is mostly out of sync. However, remember that "being out of sync" and "tripping on Acid" may be similar. So, it didn't bother me. It just seemed like a variation on a Beat poem. If you look quickly, you will see the first "Flower Girl" seated on the grass. Yes, with flowers in her hair. All this before the Beatles, and hippy-ism. There is no violence, sex, crash-bang action or flaming car crashes. People in the file were given theatrical names like: "Stark Naked". They then traveled across the U.S. like gypsies. You should be interested in history to best enjoy this film. Kesey personally took the first LSD "trips" in a hospital as a volunteer; and he was recorded on tape. Hear those original tapes in this movie. His "trip" is supported with inspired graphics so that the viewer can feel that he/she is also "tripping" for 2 minutes. However, the rest of the movie is not an "LSD trip" for the viewer of this film. The movie poster "The Magic Trip" is more embellished and "tripy" than this movie is. Clearly the "magic" part is happening in the heads of the friends who are depicted in this movie. The viewer of the movie will not reach the "heights" that these people are experiencing. This is a home movie created with (3) 16mm film cameras held by intoxicated adults. The viewing can be shaky, rocky; but it is all in good focus. The film is not grainy. This film does not overtly promote drug usage. The undesirable effects of drugs are also presented in this film. Amazing that they could live film police stopping them on the highways. Not all of the pranksters "made it" to New York. One woman didn't. She's the one who fell in the pond in the middle of nowhere (actually Wikieup, AZ) to immediately find that the water was clearer than before; underwater she could see everywhere farther and clearer on LSD. And she could talk to slim. And all of the slim beings in the pond could finally talk to a human being for the first time. And she found that we can now be friends with slim beings. The pranksters named her "Miss Slim of 1964". This film is a lot of innocent fun played out by adults in short hair styles. This a home movie which belongs in the Smithsonian Institute. It is a very gentle movie with a cast of friends. Just remember: all this happened before the hippies ever were "created". This film was used as entertainment for Ken Kesey's friends who visited him overnight in his home while they played with psychedelic drugs. The film highlights Ken Kesey's novel briefly: "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. It all ends with a pleasant message about the 60s and Ken Kesey's private life and marriage. If you want to complete your knowledge of the 1960's, you must see this film.
This could have been a movie reminiscent of those often celebrated
sixties. However, the people portrayed in this home movie avant la
lettre, were far from average. Their ways of living and what we saw
thereof was on a safe distance from our own memories of that time.
I can understand the attraction of the 100 hour film footage that was left behind. But condensing it into a feature film length, does not work. For starters, we got a super fast intro of characters, leaving unclear who was who, and what tied them together. Secondly, the purpose of the journey was left equally unclear (maybe there wasn't any). Thirdly, it kept us wondering about the vast number of practical aspects for such a journey, like money, groceries, repairs, petrol, and so on. Of course, all this only proves that I wouldn't have blended in with this company, being much too serious and too organized for such a journey to even think about.
Anyway, it offered a nice excuse to show TV and movie fragments of that time, and pictures of every-days lives and streets. Also, we saw repeated police checks for no reason, demonstrating that their overall appearance (painted bus, haircut, clothes, etc) was "different". A nice side effect was that we saw and heard VSOP music fragments of that time, working well to refresh our memories. Similarly, it showed us how progressive people dressed in the sixties. Could that be all there is to fill 107 minutes of film, and keep our attention span??
All in all, what we saw was kaleidoscopic, to say the least. On one hand, it was interesting for someone who grew up in that time (like me) but nearly forgot all about it (I did). On the other hand, it did not go beyond the family album level with pictures from the past. Leaves us wondering how more than 100 hours of film footage and sound fragments could have survived the continuous chaos these people used to live in. Again, this question proves that it was not my kind of company. Maybe good for us that they existed, important as they may have been as a catalyst for cultural changes, if only to practically demonstrate how to detach yourself from the daily grind and drop all common conventions.
I read Tom Wolfe's novel and was pretty impressed. I watched this movie and wasn't. In the novel the pranksters have a clear underlying philosophy to their antics and as such mark an important historical beginning of the 60's youth counterculture. In the novel there is a recurring theme railing against the crass materialism of America at the time and a continuation of the artistic beat movement of the 50's. In the movie we're pretty much simply given an advert for LSD. As I understood it drugs and sex were used as a MEANS to a greater understanding and a new philosophy of life. But what we witness in this film is simply irresponsible self gratification and mindless hedonism which I guess is what eventually burnt the 60's out. Maybe Wolfe made it all up and this film represents the reality? If so it was a big disappointment for me. I'm with Kerouac on this one. I'd share a beer with him on that sofa in New York and have a good moan about what a bunch of irritating,vain, stupid,shallow, self indulgent pricks they all were.
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