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Are you a fan of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, the Beat writers, Timothy Leary or The Grateful Dead? Then Massawyrm thinks you should take a MAGIC TRIP!

Hola all. Massawyrm here.

The period from the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s is easily one of the most fascinating epochs in American pop culture history. The overly conservative McCarthy era of the early 50’s had given way to a popular rebellion in which writers began testing this country’s obscenity laws and it heroes, both literary and on screen, were a ragtag bunch of thieves, drug addicts and brooding loners. The beat writers exploded into the mainstream just about the time that Timothy Leary and his cohorts were in the early stages of experimentation with psychedelic drugs. The combination of these two movements would create a culture bomb that would leave in its rubble everything you think of when you think about the 1960’s.

On the East Coast you had the beat circle experimenting with all manner of drug and drink, while further upstate Leary had purchased a mansion in which he hosted luminaries of the intelligentsia (including Ginsberg and Aldous Huxley) to weekends filled with controlled experimentation into psychedelic consciousness expansion.  But on the West Coast, a noted novelist by the name of Ken Kesey (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) was assembling a group of friends to take a cross country trip that would begin innocently enough and end up in the annals of legend.

Armed with a pile of cameras and recording equipment, a multi-colored bus named FURTHER and more LSD than they knew what to do with, Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters would make their way from California to New York, driven by none other than cross country road trip legend Neal Cassady – who you might know best as the model for Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty in ON THE ROAD. Their adventures would famously drive one of their members permanently insane, take them to party with Kerouac, clash with Leary and his buddies, and end up creating more legends of the scene than any other road trip in history. Unfortunately, the Merry Pranksters weren’t AV geeks and none of their trip’s video synched with its sound, creating a nearly unwatchable mess involving some of the coolest cats ever to live. The viewing parties that followed would spawn a west coast counter culture all its own that gave prominence to their houseband The Grateful Dead and popularized the drug culture that the 60’s are most famous for. While their journey would be immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s classic THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, this footage would largely go unseen by the general public.

MAGIC TRIP is a documentary assembled almost entirely from that footage, overlaid with interviews of the Merry Pranksters themselves. History would find divided opinions on what the Merry Pranksters did. Some would hail them as counterculture heroes; others would paint them as drug addled buffoons that would ultimately destroy acceptance of Leary’s ideal of the controlled trip. If this documentary has one failing, it is that it leans more towards further immortalizing the Pranksters than it does offering blistering critique.

That said, the footage is incredible and the interviews revealing. You’ll see an annoyed Kerouac drinking himself into a stupor; hear tapes of Kesey’s first drug experiences; listen to a speed popping Cassady ramble about nothing and everything all at once; see some of the Grateful Dead’s earliest performances; visit Millbrook estate; and ultimately witness all the madness in between. As an artifact, this documentary will show you things you’ve only read about. And for those of you literary nerds out there like myself who have torn through and devoured the writing of the time, this is a gem that you cannot pass up.

As a time capsule, it is astounding. But as a documentary for those only passingly interested in the era, it has little to offer. Sadly, being assembled so long after the passing of its most notable members, the filmmakers were left with little ability to probe deeper than the previously recorded interviews. And with a slant towards celebrating the trip rather than calling its antics into question, you can feel the moments where it pulls its punches. These were, after all, a group of twenty and thirty-somethings experimenting with drugs with which they had little experience, pulling some fairly obnoxious stunts, and laying the groundwork for some of the worst parts of the era. But even when some fairly dark things happen, they are treated only with a hint of remorse.

And yet, some of the footage is SO…FUCKING…GOOD. It’s hard to disparage this film for playing nice with the Pranksters when it has so much to offer. MAGIC TRIP moves at a good clip, never gets boring and always has something interesting to show you.  But most of its power stems from its historical significance rather than its revelations and story, so it really does require you to already be interested in the various figures you’ll be watching.

Directed by Alex Gibney and his longtime editor Alison Ellwood - both of whom together have turned out some of the best documentaries of the last decade - this certainly lives up to the importance of their previous work, but never quite plays at its level. These two are known for their scathing portrayals of historical events and figures, so I’m not quite sure if their hands were tied by Kesey’s estate or if they were simply both too in love with their subjects to be a bit more balanced. Either way, they certainly have made something that will excite the living hell out of fans of the era, even if it leaves them a bit wanting. If this at all sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend checking it out.

MAGIC TRIP is available now ON DEMAND and in limited theatrical release this Friday.

Until next time friends,

Massawyrm

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Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:20 a.m. CST

    i just had to get a first!!

    by jake rodgers

    First

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Sick of hippies. Sick of baby boomers.

    by OutsideChance

    Can't wait until enough of the boomers die off that we can stop having to hear about how "important" a bunch of teenagers were.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:33 a.m. CST

    outsidechance

    by Massawyrm 1

    Yup, just like when the Boomer's parents died and we stopped hearing about how "important" a bunch of drunken American writers living in Paris were. Or when *their* parents died and we got to stop hearing about how great a bunch of non-conformists writing about the fucking woods were. 0_o

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:43 a.m. CST

    Not the same thing, Massa

    by OutsideChance

    The boomers conflate everything they care about beyond its actual importance. Older guys like Hemingway and Fitzgerald are still talked about but not every writer of that era is. Why? Because most of them weren't that good and we realize it. The sixties, on the other hand, everything is currently treated as if it were gold when 90 % of that era was crap, the same as any other era.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:47 a.m. CST

    TheECAT...

    by Uridium

    Read this last year. I'm looking forward to seeing some of this footage.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 8:48 a.m. CST

    A whole culture built on LSD...

    by Mr Soze

    Never liked acid, but maybe I shouldn't have continuously mixed it with ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine, nitros, kind buds, and Seagrams whiskey.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 9:02 a.m. CST

    No link to an official site? Nothing?

    by Wookie_Weed

    Don't make us lazy asses google it! Besides, with Australia's internet filter, googling this shit will attract the feds.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 9:36 a.m. CST

    Hippies are scum. They want your money and hate you for working

    by Knobules

    And they stink. Oh we are a merry band of pranksters! What BS No you are wasted and want things handed to you because you are lazy and stupid. Take a bath and get a job like the rest of the world. oh and shut the fuck up.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Officially, the bus was called "Furthur."

    by THE_CHOPPAH

    But it was misspelled as 'Furthur' on the bus, so that spelling stuck.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 9:39 a.m. CST

    Sorry, officially it was called 'Further.'

    by THE_CHOPPAH

    Typo!

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 10:35 a.m. CST

    will the dvd come with blotter or geltabs?

    by Eric

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 10:40 a.m. CST

    Speaking of the Beats, how about some news on the On The Road movie

    by rev_skarekroe

    It was supposed to come out this month, but they pushed it to next year. What gives?

  • With thousands of vile smelling stupid vegetable humanoids gushing over it.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, noon CST

    Soon...very soon...all the hippies will be dead.

    by Mistahtibbs

    Yay!

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 12:40 p.m. CST

    Great piece of American modern history

    by Fixthe Fernback

    I read about all these guys in the great book Storming Heaven by Jay Stevens. I look forward to watching this.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 12:56 p.m. CST

    Baby-boomers are the worst generation in American history

    by Laserhead

    Entitled, spoiled, narcissistic hedonist douche-bags who contributed not one fucking thing to the world except debt. And don't say 'civil rights.' Neither LBJ or MLK was a baby-boomer.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 1:48 p.m. CST

    Kerouac's ON THE ROAD was OK but I prefer the Willie Nelson Sequel

    by monorail77

    On the Road Again Amirite?

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 2:40 p.m. CST

    have to agree with laserhands and outsidechance

    by Mono

    The Baby Boomers: whiny, narcissistic, self-indulgent people with a simple philosophy: "Gimme that! It's mine!" These people were given everything, everything was handed to them, and they took it all, sold it all; sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and they stayed loaded for twenty years and had a free ride. But now they're staring down the barrel of middle-age burnout, and they don't like it. They don't like it, so they've become self-righteous, and they wanna make things hard for young people. They tell em abstain from sex, say no to drugs. As for rock 'n' roll, they sold that for television commercials a long time ago so they can buy pasta machines and StairMasters and soybean futures. You know something? They're cold, bloodless people. It's in their slogans, it's in their rhetoric: "No pain, no gain," "Just do it," "Life is short, play hard," "Shit happens, deal with it," "Get a life." These people went from "Do your own thing" to "Just say no!" They went from "Love is all you need" to "Whoever winds up with the most toys, wins", and they went from cocaine to Rogaine. And you know something? They're still counting grams, only now it's fat grams. And the worst of it is we have to watch the commercials on TV for Levi's loose-fitting jeans and fat-ass Docker pants because these degenerate, yuppie, Boomer cocksuckers couldn't keep their hands off the croissants and the Häägen-Dasz and their big fat asses have spread all over and they have to wear fat-ass Docker pants. Fuck these Boomers, fuck these yuppies... and fuck everyone, now that I think of it. --George Carlin The baby boomers have fucked us in so many ways, and when you talk to them they have this grandiose sense of their own accomplishments. They look you straight in the face and tell you that the economy sucks because us young people are lazy, and don't make their own opportunities, and aren't loyal to their companies. Meanwhile as politicians and ceos they cut education and they cut social programs so they can lower taxes for the wealthy; they ship our jobs overseas, lay you off whilst their companies make billions in profits, don't pay you what you're worth (just look at way incomes have leveled off since the 1970's); and send us off to kill Afghani farm boys in wars that have no real purpose. They are a cutthroat bunch of heartless blowhards who inherited a land of plenty and turned it into a desert. If they can they'll make themselves immortal on the green poison of their own toxicness, and it will be the great quest of the younger generations to rise up and throw them down. But let's hope they just die off. This movie sounds good, though, and I look forward to it. :) Guys like Kesey and Kerouac are not to blame. It's the hippies.... those fuckers could have changed the world, but instead, when they'd had their fun, they put on suits, became worse than everything they hated, and in their total selfishness and stupidity they gathered everything to them they could -- all the money, all the power -- and began to ruin the world.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 2:49 p.m. CST

    everybody is scum

    by Anthony Torchia

    Hey Knobules, you don't have to look hard to find a group, that so hates another group, that they think they are "scum." I wonder who thinks that about you?

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 5:02 p.m. CST

    Skip you are probably right but at least I wear deoderant.

    by Knobules

    Is it THAT hard to take a shower once a MONTH?

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 5:14 p.m. CST

    Bravo Mono...

    by SAILOR_RIPLEY

    man I miss George.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 6:21 p.m. CST

    The CIA flooded the radical left with LSD

    by Nerd Rage

    To sabatogue and discredit them.

  • Aug. 2, 2011, 7:41 p.m. CST

    Wow! Generational Intolerance...AGAIN!

    by tintab

    So interesting that this constantly plays out over and over again with not a hint of irony or self-reflection. The sense of entitlement is related to what is "important" or what is "cool". Ever since the beginning of popular youth culture, every successive generation must somehow deconstruct the previous one. The present generation "must" be cooler because it's newer, up-to-date, corrects the mistakes of the past etc... Every generation has it's pretensions but these shouldn't prevent acknowledging something of interest and importance happened then or is happening now. Sadly, snobbishness and justification seem to be present in every generation.

  • Aug. 3, 2011, 1:14 a.m. CST

    This looks amazing!

    by awardgiver

    I can't wait to see this. I love this era, its too bad it isn't showing in Texas. I would love to see this on the big screen. Ah well...let us know when the dvd comes out!!!

  • Aug. 3, 2011, 3:58 a.m. CST

    yep, does sound amazing.

    by billyhitchcock1

  • Aug. 3, 2011, 5:02 a.m. CST

    awardgiver

    by Massawyrm 1

    You can watch it right now on Amazon Streaming or the VOD provider of your choice. I dropped cash to watch this myself and it was worth it.

  • Aug. 3, 2011, 11:01 a.m. CST

    As Bart Simpson said to Homer

    by Himbo

    "Dad, you'd make a great Hippy. You're lazy, self-righteous... and your feet are JET BLACK!" That said, Kesey was hardly lazy. He started farming and just wanted to be left alone. That is the kind of hippy I can endorse. Cash the check for 'Cuckoo's Nest' and live in your hermitage. We'll leave each other alone and call it quits. Still find it interesting that he claims to have never seen film version of Cuckoo's Nest.

  • Aug. 3, 2011, 1 p.m. CST

    I will steal this movie just like Steal This Book

    by THAT_SAID_THE_CHOPPAH

    It only seems apropos.