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

by Anne Thompson
February 1, 2011 7:20 AM
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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:

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