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Sundance Video: Alex Gibney Talks Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady on Magic Trip

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 1, 2011 at 7:20AM

With Magic Trip, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and his longtime editor Alison Ellwood have cut together a rich piece of 60s history using archive video and audio of the iconic literary figures on the famous cross-country Magic Bus trip recounted by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Gibney talks (our video interview is below) about how Ken Kesey created the original footage that he uses in Magic Trip. "It's archival cinema verite," Gibney says. "I wanted more of an immersion experience... it's like the origin story of the 60s."
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Thompson on Hollywood

With Magic Trip, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and his longtime editor Alison Ellwood have cut together a rich piece of 60s history using archive video and audio of the iconic literary figures on the famous cross-country Magic Bus trip recounted by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Gibney talks (our video interview is below) about how Ken Kesey created the original footage that he uses in Magic Trip. "It's archival cinema verite," Gibney says. "I wanted more of an immersion experience... it's like the origin story of the 60s."

Rather than have contemporary figures comment on the past, Gibney relies on vintage audio commentary to go along with the footage, which Kesey shot without synch sound--they used no clappers. Gibney had to hire lip readers to help them navigate through the material. Kesey "is a magical character," says Gibney. "He had charisma coming out of his ears. He's the star of the film." Magic Trip will air on The History Channel, but is also seeking a theatrical partner. UPDATE: Gibney's frequent distributor, Magnolia's Eamonn Bowles, picked up the R-rated film, which will open in theaters on August 5.

Another charismatic character is Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac's On the Road cohort, who drove the bus, high on speed. Cassady was "polymorphously perverse," says Gibney. "He was talking non-stop." When Cassady did not drive the bus on the way back, you feel an entirely different vibe. When the acid heads visit Timothy Leary, he turns out to be Mr. Uptight, coming down from a trip. "These guys wanted to have fun," says Gibney. "They were very anarchistic. They had that sense of challenging that fear."

Here's Variety's review.

Part One:

Part Two:

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Independents, Video, Reviews, TV, Sundance, Documentaries, Magnolia, Interviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.