Ah, the 60s. . . .
I guess I was too old for them. As the decade began, I was preparing children for kindergarten, and though I spent a little time in San Francisco in 1960 and 61, and enjoyed a shoe shine from a bare-breasted wench, and was a Gaslight Square regular, and was far better prepared for making love than for making war, and grew a beard, I wasn't among them.
"Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place," a semi-documentary that opens today, beings back memories but really is not a very good movie. Alex Gibney and Alison
Ellwood wrote and directed, and Stanley Tucci provides narration, but trying to assemble many hours of film and tape -- uncoordinated film and tape -- creates a mostly hazy view, especially as the bus trip ends and the directors still are trying to build a complete entity out of so many disparate words and images.
The trip itself is fun, depending on your definition of the word. Kesey, Neal Cassady and friends decide to travel from the Bay Area to New York for the 1964 World's Fair. They buy a 1939 school bus, paint it in a medley of psychedelic colors, build a rooftop seating and waving area, dub it "Further" and take off. Cassady, later famous as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," does most of the driving while the others, adopting such names as Stark Naked, Gretchen Fetchin, Generally Famished, Intrepid Traveler and, of course, Zonker, sing, get stoned and almost fly alongside.
Using postcards to identify their various stops, they first disrupt Larry McMurtry's middle-class Houston neighborhood, parading with musical instruments they play badly while thinking they sound like John Coltrane. New Orleans is another stop on the way to New York, where they discover that the World's Fair is not quite what they thought it would be.
In some respects, it's another example of West Coast vs. East Coast thinking, as exemplified recently by the West laughing at the East for the reaction to an earthquake.
It's shown again when they visit the guru of LSD, Timothy Leary, in Millbrook, N.Y., and such as Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac. But the return trip, with detours, is much like Saturday morning after what you're positive was a marvelous party on Friday night.
Magic Trip opens today at the Plaza Frontenac