Miami 2011: “Magic Trip”

I mentioned in my Miami International Film Festival doc preview that Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney’s “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place” was not one of my most anticipated. I hadn’t heard good buzz at Sundance on the film, and I’m not a huge fan of Gibney lately anyway. Also, his doc on Hunter S. Thompson, “Gonzo,” was a huge disappointment for me, so I was expecting something similar here. Well, I found myself at a screening of the film last night, and I didn’t hate it. It’s far more satisfying than the Thompson film. But I also came away wondering what it’s really about, if anything. If it’s just a way of finally presenting the footage that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters shot during their iconic 1964 psychedelic bus trip, I wish it was much simpler.

It’s a shame the old films, which don’t look nearly as bad as I’d heard, don’t feature synched audio. That would have made for something great, left alone save for some expert editing to give it a narrative flow. Enough people have read Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” to fill in the specifics of what’s going on, and if not then it could at least be a mere verite record of the time and events. But Gibney and company love voice-over, so I’d never imagine them letting material like this go without lots of narrated commentary. At least the voice-over stuff here is more directly from people involved and relatively contemporary of the footage itself. Of course, I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t recently recorded interviews if Ellwood hadn’t mentioned it after the screening.

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