After more than 40 years, one of America’s most iconic writers will finally release the movie footage of the events that inspired the birth of the road trip.
Going back to 1964, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey teamed up with Neal Cassady, who was turned into a literary icon in the classic drifters novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Armed with a bagful of LSD, the two counter culture icons, decided to go on a trip to the New York World Fair with what later became known as a Merry Band of Pranksters and what turned out to be the archetypal road trip.
The group comprised a mishmash of anti-establishment, fun-loving, cool renegades – the kind who listened to jazz, talked about poets and had more than their fair share of amorous encounters. The half-bake idea was to film a documentary of the trip, but the footage put together on old 16mm cameras was never actually edited together.
Alex Gibney’s Magic Trip movie finally reopens the case of the Merry Band of Pranksters and reveals how the crew set off for the World Fair not long after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which shocked America in that fateful moment, in Dallas, November 1963.
Strangely, as well as being a bizarre and comical bus ride across the states, the movie is also a videography of the culture of recreational drug use of the time. Gibney previously scooped an Oscar in 2005 for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and his political angles are normally acute rather than obtuse like obvious political commentators such as Michael Moore – not so grotesquely obvious.
In essence Gibney lets passengers on the bus tell the story and it touches on the great cultural transformation of the time with fascinating opinions civil rights and the feminist movement. The film isn’t simply a stiff documentary of 1960’s American counter-culture, it’s also a story of friendship and bonds and the birth of the road trip.