“Magic Trip” is a documentary detailing Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ cross-country road trip to the New York World’s Fair and their experiences with LSD along the way. On Wednesday night, the documentary’s footage gave Boulder viewers an unusual look into the lives of these famous characters.
The event, held at Boulder Theater, drew a mixed crowd. More than half the audience was made up of people who look as though they could have lived through the 1960s and through the movie’s events. College-aged viewers made up the rest of the crowd, varying from those who fit a hippie stereotype to a few who looked like they had come straight from class.
The documentary seems very appropriate for a screening in Boulder. Emily Kessler, the marketing assistant at Boulder Theater explained why the film was chosen as part of the theater’s weekly film series.
“The laid back [nature] of Boulder meshes perfectly with the swingin’ 60’s road trip that is portrayed in the movie,” Kessler said. “Free spirits tend to flock to Boulder, and this movie is right up their alley.”
At the beginning of the film Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is introduced as a wholesome all-American boy. He’s a football player who marries his junior-high sweetheart and doesn’t drink or smoke.
The Merry Pranksters were a group made up of young, ordinary looking people, including a marine and a pregnant Stanford philosophy professor. As one member states in the film, “[they] weren’t long haired and [they] weren’t irresponsible.”
These people could easily pass as college students at any university today. Even Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty from “On the Road” and the group’s driver, seems very ordinary. One of the girls on the bus said that he reminds her of her father. However, he constantly takes speed to stay awake, which causes him to talk incessantly and he dances violently while driving, sometimes abandoning the wheel altogether.
The documentary also includes a brief history of LSD. When Albert Hofmann was credited as the first synthesizer of the drug, the audience burst into applause. Kesey’s first LSD trip is documented using visual and audio elements to replicate the drug’s effects. The scene is visually appealing, with repeating patterns filling the screen and Kesey’s words appearing in various fonts across the screen.
Kesey encourages his friends to take LSD with him when their bus gets stuck in sand at the beginning of their trip. The group’s acid trip was filmed and documented showing men dancing around in their underwear. This first trip begins a string of LSD experiences the group shares on their way to and from the World’s Fair.
Although LSD is a large part of the movie, it is not a constant focus. Many times an event is shown and acid is mentioned as an afterthought. Regardless, the Pranksters say that the physical trip, as well as the acid trips, became more important than the actual destination. They were disappointed by the World’s Fair and by the end of the film, Kesey and many of the Pranksters had stopped taking LSD. The documentary does discuss the negative effects of the drug to an extent as well.
The film successfully portrays the culture of the group and the time period, from the sexual relationships between the members to the music they listened to.
Kesey, for example, was considered single on the trip because his wife wasn’t there. The film also focuses on the patriotism of Kesey and the Pranksters. The bus sports a large American flag, and many of the members dress in red, white and blue clothing. Kennedy’s assassination is credited as one of the original inspirations for the road trip. Kesey even says that exploring LSD felt very American – exploring a place no one had been before.
Because the group is large and always changing, it is hard to keep up with the individual characters. Overall, it is hard to form an emotional connection with any of the characters, because they are shown from a distance. For this reason, viewers with some background knowledge might enjoy the documentary more than those going into it blindly.
The film is of high quality considering the footage is over 40 years old. The audio meanwhile is sometimes difficult to understand and runs together in parts. Despite these imperfections, the “Magic Trip” footage is well-preserved and does not detract from the film.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.firstname.lastname@example.org.