In 1963, Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters outfitted a school bus with state-of-the-art film cameras, tape recorders, and high-tech trip toys and hit the road. All that's left besides the acid-drenched memories are photos and 40 hours of footage that directors Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood edited into a new film, titled "Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place." Pegged on the documentary's release, Smithsonian recounts the quintessential road trip:
"What they were doing was glorious, fun and magical in the best sense of the word," Gibney says. The director sees Kesey as an artist and adventurer who was at heart a family man, the coach of his local school football and soccer teams. "In a way, the bus trip is kind of Kesey's art piece," Gibney argues. "I think part of his mission was to be a kind of Pied Piper for a country that was just enveloped in fear. He was saying, 'Come out of your bomb shelter. Have fun. Don't be trapped in a maze.'"
Gibney agrees that Kesey was attracted to the chaos of the journey, a chaos amplified by the extraordinary amounts of drugs consumed by the Pranksters.
Unlike many of his followers, Kesey tried to use drugs to explore his personality, not to repeat the same experiences. "You take the drug to stop taking the drug," he said.