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3 out of 5 stars
Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Ken Kesey was a bridge between the countercultures of the 1950s and ’60s: the author of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was a friend to Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and one of the fathers of the acid generation. In 1964, at 28, he and his self-styled ‘Merry Pranksters’ – LSD-loving West Coast free spirits who would later host San Francisco’s Acid Test events – drove a multi-coloured bus cross-country to New York City, nominally to visit that summer’s World’s Fair, but mainly as an act of good-spirited hedonism. They dressed in red, white and blue to ‘celebrate America’ and knocked back hallucinogens. Often at the wheel was speedfreak Cassady, who, as one of the interviewees in this documentary remembers, ‘talked a lot’: ‘He was a radio…it had a lot to do with the speed.’
This documentary from Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood (Ellwood was editor on Gibney’s solo films such as ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’) reconstructs that trip, with some topping and tailing for context. The Pranksters shot ample 16mm film that was never edited; Gibney and Ellwood pick up where they left off, making a collage of their footage and adding later interviews – plus readings by actors of interviews – to the soundtrack, and inventing a interviewer-narrator character voiced by Stanley Tucci. There are problems: the filmmakers make little attempt to argue any cultural or historical case for their subjects and there are too many folk on the bus to get close to anyone, even Kesey. But they make the wise decision to show no footage of anybody in later years – bar a few shots of Kesey, who died in 2001 – which helps us to dive headfirst into both the journey and period and decide for ourselves whether to take it or leave it.