I saw it on Sunday, been meaning to post, but not quite sure what to say…
It’s a little late for me, going on 40 years since I read Tom Wolfe’s book, discovered in a hidden stash of my Mother’s, not long after I’d had a textbook freak out. Ever after I wanted more, to really see what all the talk was about, but documentation was scanty. Some of us saw Babbs at Wetlands in the early ‘90’s; he showed some snippets and a couple of books were published, but it was still fragmentary. And the present film is fragmentary. I suppose it’s the nature of the source material, but it still seems like brief, flickering images, unfocused. For all the Neil Cassidy hagiography there’s no extended raps recorded, just brief sound bites. At this distance it reminded me of a couple of other recent recovery projects where they came up with color footage of WWII and mid-century baseball; shocking by virtue of the brilliant images we’re mostly familiar with in black-and-white.

Still, anyone who’s ever been beguiled by the legend will want to see this, and I enjoyed it. As a documentary it’s loose; not always clear who or when the voice-over interviews are from, or what’s been “recreated” (authentic-sounding recordings of Kesey’s Stanford LSD experiment subject sessions are paired with new visuals, Stark Naked is shown flashing truckers from a viewpoint behind the bus…) I couldn’t keep it all straight…

Wolfe is not mentioned, but his book remains the gospel (I like to say it’s his best work, if only to deflate his claim to being a great novelist, but certainly it inspired more people than anything else he’s ever written) and several of his stories are well documented, maybe he was in the back of the producer’s mind, or maybe it was just the nature of what they had to work with. There’s an attempt to tell the broader tale, and the film is unapologetic about drugs, but it’s not quite the epic treatment that the psychedelic 60’s deserve (and probably won’t receive in our lifetime.)

Mostly it is the bus trip. The top-billed celebrity stars, the Dead, Leary, Kerouac, are only seen briefly. What I couldn’t have guessed 20 or 40 years ago was that The Movie would presage today’s “reality” genre. The existential failure of The Movie in it’s own time remains central to the legend, and illuminates Kesey’s understanding that the whole point was dependent on being your own editor; when reality meets fiction you’ve got to cut the film yourself, everything else is just history.

- alex 8-10-2011 1:49 am

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