Colour footage shot by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their legendary 1964 bus trip across America is seen for the first time, collated by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney. Turn on, tune in, drop out!
Screened as part of NZIFF 2011
Author Ken Kesey, chief instigator of the Merry Pranksters, was 29 and already famous for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest when they took their now legendary bus trip across America in 1964. Famously chronicled by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the Pranksters were pioneers of psychedelic mayhem, seeking enlightenment through LSD. Kesey said he was born too late to be a beatnik and too soon to be a hippy, but the Pranksters were probably the transition. Though Kesey nurtured hopes of becoming a filmmaker, no one on the bus wielded their cameras or sound equipment with any idea of how films were actually made. Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and his editor Alison Ellwood have delved into the mass of unseen colour footage and intercut the most coherent of it with collected diverse commentaries by key participants. Mixing in a music track that perfectly encapsulates the era – Dion, Ike Turner, John Coltrane – they maintain a random, home-movie aesthetic, as all aboard turn on, tune in and drop out. Found footage nirvana for 60s heads. — BG