Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters decided to drive a colourfully painted schoolbus, christened Further, from California to the New York 1964 World's Fair to get a feel for what was happening in America. They made it there after two weeks of free-wheeling craziness with amusing small adventures every step of the way. But they also get so lost in dropping acid that everything starts getting rather chaotic, sending their relationships into soap-opera territory. Which makes the drive back home a bit surreal.
The film edits the astonishing 16mm footage to follow the road trip chronologically. And the scenes are often outrageously candid and unfiltered.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers add an audio track consisting of Stanley Tucci's smirking narration and tellingly humorous reminiscences from the Pranksters themselves. What emerges is a fascinating look at the 1960s in the wake of John F Kennedy's assassination, surrounded by civil rights marches and a divisive election campaign.
The film is also a history of LSD itself, as Kesey was introduced to the drug at university in a government study (the audiotape of his first trip is inventively animated). Indeed, it later emerged that the CIA developed LSD as a mind-control drug for interrogations. Oddly, the film uncritically presents acid as positive and mind-expanding, ignoring bad trips or lasting effects. As a result, Gibney and Ellwood have made a movie that's revealing and important, but will only engage with insiders.
More interesting is the belief these people share that this is how society ought to be: free, fair and nonjudgemental. When they got home, they realised that they had started a movement that wouldn't die. Of course, that's when the fearful backlash began, as well as a movement from Kesey himself to get people to realise that there comes a time when you must stop taking drugs. But after the rest of the film, we're not convinced that Gibney and Ellwood believe that.
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th August 2011
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Production compaines: A&E IndieFilms, Phoenix Wiley
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Alex Gibney, Alison Ellwood
Producer: Will Clarke, Alex Gibney, Alexandra Johnes
Screenwriter: Alex Gibney, Alison Ellwood