By Hemanth Kissoon
The opening gambit to the new documentary introduced by co-director Alex Gibney, “When did the ‘60s begin? That might seem obvious.” The intriguing supposition is that author Ken Kesey was the catalyst for that landmark era, when he went on a road trip across America taking copious amount of drugs. “If Shakespeare was writing today I don’t think he would use a quill pen,” Kesey referring to cinema. This road trip of 1964 is filmed. The archive footage is edited by the filmmakers and presented to us with the argument that the ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST writer started counter culture. Inspired by the World’s Fair in New York, he and his friends outfitted a bus and decided to visit it and see the American landscape along the way. We are bombarded by images and sounds, not unpleasantly.
Make of it what you will, but there are four films in about the space of a year that deal with the counter culture revolution: HOWL, this, the up-coming ON THE ROAD, and arguably DARWIN – which both that and MAGIC TRIP use the quote, too old to be beatniks and too young to be hippies. There’s obviously something in our times making us cry out for the spirit of the last generation.
Kesey seems to be an impressive man – confident, educated and talented; he had created that landmark novel by the time he was 29 years old! He and the “Merry Pranksters” as they call themselves, armed with 16mm cameras, shot about 40 hours of footage. There is humour (they seem to invent tie-dying), but the film feels repetitive. I guess the style is freeform in response to the characters and nature of the material. Colourful and mildly enlightening.