Post-WWII America was a savage battle between the conservative and liberals, each tugging desperately until the whole damn thing shattered like a piñata, showering the sixties in free love and whatever other excuses they had to take drugs back then. Winding and hollering their way through like uncaged beasts, carried by a wave of unbridled love, hatred and LSD-spiked orange juice was the Merry Pranksters. Not old enough to be hippies and too old to be beatnicks.
Led by the esteemed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey, and with Jack Kerouac’s travelling companion, Neal Cassady, behind the wheel these angel-headed hipsters embarked on a road trip across America. Their carriage was a 1939 International Harvester school bus called ‘Further’, coated to the decks with violent and unimaginable patterns of day-glo paint. Their goal was to shove a firework of truth so far up Conservative America’s arse crack, Congress would be singing stars.
Before now, the remnants of this trip survived in Tom Wolfe’s novel, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, and over 100 hours of 16mm reels and audio cassettes, recorded on the trip and passed through the projectors of a select few. That was until Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side) teamed up with Alison Ellwood (Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) to bring the 40-year-old footage to the silver screen, enterMagic Trip.
The film documents the Prankster’s voyage across America from the West Coast to see New York World’s Fair, ‘The World of Tomorrow’ and a glimpse into the dysotopian future many had predicted. Their travels became embedded into American culture as the first time the little known drug LSD was cast so recklessly into the public eye. The hallucinogen had originally been tested by the CIA to use in interrogations but the Pranksters saw it as a creative potion to warp their mental boundaries. Kesey was never a political anarchist, he simply wanted to batter down the doors of perception and see what came out. In his words, “I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph”.
The result, and something captured so intimately in the film, is a band of teaheads with names like Gretchen Fetchen and Mountain Girl, bombed out of their gourds, babbling their way across America. One pastime, ‘tootling the multitudes’. was to take acid and sit on top of the bus with a flute, capturing onlookers’ reactions with the notes they played. America didn’t know what hit them, one policeman let them go over after he mistook their outfit for a college prank.
After six years of piecing together the footage captured so brilliantly and haphazardly by the Pranksters, this film promises to be the most immersive view of a group that pioneered America’s cultural charge into the sixties. Famous cohorts of the Merry Pranksters included poet Allen Ginsberg, Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Gang.
Director Alison Ellwood commented after first watching the footage, “I felt like I was a kind of ghost passenger sitting on that crazed painted bus. I could smell the fumes, feel the heat of the desert and sense my heart pounding as I barreled across the roads, my life in the hands of a genius/madman behind the wheel”.