By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 4, 2011)
Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place is the latest from the prolific Alex Gibney, and a good companion piece to his 2008 doc Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. If you’ve never read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, this is the next best thing to “being there”. Waaay out “there”. We’re talking the original Magical Mystery Tour, the one that kicked off that disunited state of mind glibly referred to by those who were not “there” as The Sixties.
In 1964, author Ken Kesey, who had been involved with the infamous CIA-sponsored 1959 psychoactive drug research program at Stanford, assembled a group of friends (including hipster saint/speed freak Neal Cassady) for a cross-country bus trip/consciousness-raising experiment that would come to be known as the maiden voyage for the “Merry Pranksters”. Kesey was prescient enough to document the trip with hours of film and audio recordings, but never got around to organizing it all as a narrative.
Gibney proves himself up to the task; as well as connecting all the (micro) dots between the Beats, the Pranksters, Leary, the Dead and beyond (the beyond). It’s a fascinating new angle on a well-beaten path. BTW…I know what you Gen X-ers and Millennials are thinking: “Oh please god, not yet another documentary about the Boomers and their halcyon days!” But hey man, give this piece a chance.