Movie Review: Magic Trip

By Stephen Rebello

Directors Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood finish a documentary movie about the 1960s that was started by bestselling writer Ken Kesey and the infamous Merry Band of Pranksters.

Directors: Alison Ellwood, Alex Gibney Rating: R Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Despite the avalanche of books, TV shows, documentaries and feature films, the 1960s remains one of our least understood, most controversial and trivialized decades. There’s much to like in the documentary Magic Trip. Co-directed by Oscar winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Alison Ellwood and narrated by Stanley Tucci, the fast-moving 90-minute movie has been culled from 100-odd hours of 16 mm footage shot when, in 1964, bestselling 29-year-old One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest writer Ken Kesey, On the Road inspiration Neal Cassady and other members of the now-famed “Merry Band of Pranksters” left San Francisco via multi-colored bus to get high, grab deeper insights and just generally mix it up at the New York World’s Fair.

Along the way in the road movie, which nails the often-misunderstood transition from the last vestige of Beat to the very early hippies, comes a lot of LSD and other psychedelics, an aborted meeting with Timothy Leary, a reunion of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and good, anarchic fun along with a sense of melancholy and regret. One of Kesey’s stated intentions was to “find out if people speak the way they do in novels,” and although he learned the obvious (they don’t), he and his young, beautiful, naïve and crazy pals may have gotten too caught up in delving into new realms of consciousness to ever finish the movie they started.

The hours of home movie-style footage just got packed away and stored for years, so Gibney and Ellwood added archival footage and fun, nostalgic and rueful new interviews with living Pranksters. Magic Bus is a lovely, longing look back at the early days of the hippiedom that later led to the Summer of Love, to Woodstock and to the anti-war movement.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


Playboy Social