In 1964, Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters took an LSD-fueled bus trip across the country from northern California to the New York World’s Fair. The incestuous gang of dropouts filmed over 40 hours of footage of their journey, footage that remained virtually untouched until now. Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, the makers of some of the most acclaimed documentaries of recent years including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Darkside, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, have successfully taken up the challenge to assemble the footage into a coherent document on the rise and fall of the acid culture. The result is intermittently interesting with the subjects’ drug-fueled antics often slanting more towards the embarrassing than the enlightening (we ran out of gas! we swam in the black folks’ watering hole!). Brief appearances by Jack Kerouac and Timothy Leary certainly liven things up as do the original animated sequences that effectively capture the trippy nature of the narrators’ experiences such as Kesey’s recorded testimonial upon his first experience with LSD. The film reaches great heights during its wind down, which includes a history of the hallucinogen from its infancy as a headache reliever to its supposed distribution by the CIA. Just as the beatniks of the 1950s led to Kesey and his band of proto-hippies, Kesey’s post-trip imprisonment and the subsequent end of the acid culture gave way to the mainstream visibility that was Woodstock and the 1970s. If you’re hip to the subject matter then it should be a rewarding trip, but if you thumb your nose at those care-free times then you should expect a dull ride.
Magic Trip opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.