"Magic Trip,
" or Just a Bunch of Kids Getting Wasted?

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Aug. 17, 2011

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Grade: D-

Oh, here we go again.

Just in case you haven’t yet had your fill of wheezy boomer nostalgia for “the ’60s, man,” here comes another hagiography for that tirelessly self-congratulating generation, courtesy of directors Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood. Charting Ken Kesey’s sad decline from brilliant young novelist to drug-addled bore, Magic Trip is cobbled together from some 40 hours of 16mm footage shot by the Merry Band Of Pranksters during their surprisingly uneventful cross-country trip back in 1964.

Painting a school bus in Day Glo colors and christening it “Furthur,” Kesey led a gang with names like Intrepid Traveler, Grethen Fetchen Stark Naked on a long strange trip indeed, with the legendary Neal Cassidy (the real-life inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road) taking the wheel during motor-mouthed amphetamine jags. All this and more was already chronicled with incisive wit by writer Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and if anything, the film proves that some things are better read than witnessed.

It’s mostly blurry, out-of-focus hippie home movies, with some awful dubbing attempting to cover for a lack of sync sound. Stanley Tucci narrates, and at times serves as an interviewer-after-the fact, providing awkward segues for mismatched, poor-quality tape recordings. Kesey considered the bus trip his life’s work, and reading Wolfe’s riveting account at the impressionable age of 17 it was hard not to imagine the experience as some sort of landmark counter-culture uprising.

Watching the film—which was notably already assembled and then deemed worthless with good cause by the actual participants at the time—it’s impossible to envision a duller band of outsiders. Pontificating endlessly in pseudo-profound circles, the blabber-mouthed yahoos take a shitload of drugs and frolic in the woods, blowing into flutes and carrying on about what “America” means. It hardly looks like a revolution, and you won’t find much mention of Vietnam or civil rights. It’s just home movies of a bunch of spoiled rich kids getting wasted.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Anonymous said... on Aug 17, 2011 at 09:00AM

“You pompous ass. You've totally missed the point.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Aug 17, 2011 at 05:27PM

“Maybe sharing what you consider the point to be might help here?”

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3. elmer said... on Aug 18, 2011 at 11:41AM

“there is so much unsaid and mis-said here it can't be dealt with in this amount of space. give me a column in which i can rebut and offer a more realistic picture of the truth of that moment. it's only fair.

it's cassady not cassidy, btw”

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4. Anonymous said... on Aug 25, 2011 at 04:08PM

“Last question: I'm just wondering if you are reacting to his review of the film or taking offense to a perceived slight of the times.”

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5. Yogi said... on Nov 22, 2012 at 02:10AM

“This was put together after his death. So to say "assembled then deemed worthless." is not correct. Also the end with what Kesey speaks and shows he bus as it is today is absolutely mind blowing and amazing and is what the movie is about. The rebuttal of this authors viewpoint. I would say critic but that assumes that the author is educated in that realm. Because the viewpoint was so amueratish I say "author". And with that I come back to point. The rebuttal can only be the last five minutes of the film. In the beginning don't you remember Kesey forsook the paper on purpose. To really really write the real world inside Theirs and yours and where you belong and where you don't belong. To realize that you didn't realize. Fast forward the years. That bus in the field. So many years. Now we they are brushed aside just like they cast aside Kerouac. That bus though is their. FURTHER. " Will you go FURTHER? " "No. No. Not any more." and Kesey said as much and more those last five minutes”


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