“Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search For A Kool Place” is a retrospective film that cuts together actual footage filmed by Ken Kesey (the author of the novel “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) and his group of friends called the Merry Prankster’s as they travel cross-country to the World’s Fair on a bus they called ‘Further’ in 1964. The film in its entirety gives a great perspective of the origins of LSD use in the hippie culture, including showing of the supposed invention of tie-dye, but doesn’t really deliver on much substance. Fans of the hippie culture and time period might get some amount of enjoyment out of “Magic Trip”, but the casual viewer may be left wondering just exactly what the point of the film was other than just watching a live-action, hippie version of “National Lampoon’s Vacation”.
Kesey and the Prankster’s had reportedly filmed nearly 40 hours of the 16mm film which they would screen in its entirety, this began Kesey’s “Can You Pass The Acid Test” campaign, a precursor to the modern day “Rocky Horror Picture Show” it seems. After being used for several years, including multiple attempts to make a logical film from out of sync audio and video, Kesey stashed the footage away in rusting containers. When the documentary film-makers Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney discovered the footage in 2004, Martin Scorsese’s film foundation helped to fund the daunting task of restoring the footage and getting the audio and video in sync. What I don’t understand, is why they couldn’t have made a film out of that footage in the vein of “found-footage” style films rather than cover all the freshly synced dialog with music and voice-over narration which makes the whole film restoration process seem pointless. On the random occasion that you do actually get to hear the legitimate dialog being spoken, it’s usually something really pointless such as the Pranksters running around yelling and screaming performing an LSD induced skit, Kesey at the wheel of the bus rambling about togetherness and at one point masturbation, or someone else who’s talking about how much they love LSD. I would have liked to see the film smartly edited together as a “found-footage” type of movie, but this is what we’ve got and I don’t think we’re going to get anything else out of it.
Several moments in the film could have been built up with dramatic tension using the actual footage and dialog, like one of the Pranksters accidentally getting left 100 miles behind, couples cheating on each other and even the let down reactions of the Pranksters when they actually arrive at the World’s Fair. But rather than actually using the footage that they have to show us the real reactions and thoughts of the group members on camera, the film-makers decided to go the easy route and just have the film narrated by the modern day Pranksters, very much the way that a director would provide audio commentary on a DVD. The arrival at the Fair was really the biggest let down of the whole film for me, not just because it wasn’t what the Pranksters expected it to be, but because the film-makers played the moment off with a bit of narration from one of the Pranksters saying “the fair sucked” before quickly moving onto the next thing. This is supposed to be a huge moment and you can’t tell me that in that 40+ hours of footage there’s not a single moment where Kesey or one of the Pranksters state their disappointment on film. The Prankster’s reaction to the World’s Fair is supposed to be the films big pay-off, but sadly it was just played off and ignored.
Maybe the film wasn’t long enough, and had it been maybe it would feature the story in a better and more eventful way. Hell, they could have made the movie reality show style and it might have worked out better. Like I mentioned earlier, the film seems to be lacking a specific purpose and maybe with more time and more footage worked in with less of the modern day “I remember when” garbage then said purpose might have been realized. Was the purpose of this film just to be an “Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” companion piece and show the legendary bus trip? Maybe that is the films purpose, but because I haven’t read that book then that purpose means nothing to me. I am, however, a fan of the 60s and the history of the hippie movement. It was very fun to watch this quirky and groovy bunch doing what they were doing so I enjoyed the film on that sort of an appreciative level. Said level is right above the point where you see something funny in vintage episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos. But disassociating myself from that and looking at the film as the documentary that it’s billed as, as just a film, “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search For A Kool Place” just left me feeling like the only guy in the group whose acid didn’t kick in.
“Magic Trip” is available for DVD purchase and Netflix Delivery.
TOTAL: 55/80 – 69%