Magic Trip (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/11/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Impressively directed and expertly assembled, this is an engaging and frequently amusing snapshot of an iconic counter-cultural event that should appeal strongly to fans of the period.

What's it all about?
Co-directed by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood (Gibney's longtime editor), Magic Trip is a documentary about counter-culture icon Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) and his self-styled “Merry Band of Pranksters” (including novelist Robert Stone, Ken Babbs, Neal Cassady - the model for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's On The Road and various other colourful characters with nicknames like Gretchen Fetchen, Zonker and Stark Naked), focusing on their LSD-fuelled bus trip across America in 1964.

The Good
The Pranksters had intended to film their trip and had duly brought along all the right equipment, though none of them knew how to use it, so Gibney and Ellwood have assembled the film using the footage that the Pranksters shot, sound-tracked with snippets of recorded sound from the trip alongside commentary from various Pranksters that was recorded at a later date, when Kesey and friends attempted to put a film together before abandoning the project. Added to this is some specially recorded narration from Stanley Tucci, which sometimes involves him posing questions that are then answered by some of the commenters.

Gibney and Ellwood make an engaging case for the context of the film, pointing out that Kesey's Magic Bus predated the psychedelic counter-culture explosion that was to come in the late 60s. The footage itself (much of it previously unseen) is remarkable, particularly when the Pranksters unintentionally stumble upon a Blacks Only segregated beach in the South and obliviously all go for a swim (all the commenters claim that none of them noticed, although somebody was filming the whole thing).

The Great
The editing is extremely impressive and the film also makes strong use of some imaginative animation techniques, the most disturbing of which involves a photo of Kesey and a ventriloquist's dummy (God help anyone who sees this film under the influence during that scene). The film is also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and quite telling, in that several of the passengers weren't having quite as much fun as you might think (the shots of speed-freak Cassady driving the bus and talking a mile a minute are irritating enough in short bursts, let alone an entire trip across America).

Worth seeing?
Magic Trip is a well made, entertaining documentary that paints an invaluable picture of an iconic counter-cultural event. Great soundtrack too. Recommended.

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Content updated: 22/10/2017 10:45

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