Gus Van Sant Gets on the Bus

electric-kool-aid-acid-testTime Out New York‘s breezy Frame-Up breaks the news that Gus Van Sant will direct the movie of Tom Wolfe‘s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Alas, the story of how the blog found out is about as convoluted as the Sargossa Manuscript. It apparently involves a Tweet about a Tweet from Gus Van Sant. Van Sant had no sooner written that he was directing the movie, when his Tweet disappeared into the cybernetic void. This also describes several acid tests we’ve enjoyed in the past.

Kool-Aid is unfilmable, but that’s never stopped anyone before. Wolfe accompanied Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they drove across the United States in 1964 in a psychedelic schoolbus. The Pranksters dispensed LSD and grooved to the Grateful Dead. Kesey called this mad performance art project “tootling the multitudes.” The law thought differently and arrested him for marijuana possession. Kesey faked a suicide and fled to Mexico. As well as Kesey, the author whose One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest funded his efforts to achieve better living through chemistry, the supporting cast includes Allen Ginsberg, Larry McMurtry and Hunter S. Thompson.

Acid Test was published in 1968, and it’s very likely more kids read it than Herbert Marcuse or The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Wolfe never took LSD himself. But the New Journalist’s writing conveys the experience of dropping acid and the origins of the hippie lifestyle with such technicolored vividness that it’s hard not to want to tune in, turn on and drop out. On a more critical level, Wolfe demonstrates how Kesey’s jaunt was a uniquely American form of rebellion, one designed to transform the lives of those it came into contact with. We never find out whether Wolfe wore his white plantation suit the entire time, though.

Van Sant also said the film was penned by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning scripter of Milk. The script was described as “really funny.” That’s a little unnerving since comedy isn’t exactly Van Sant’s forte. (There’s a reason they cut out the Harvey Milk-dressed-as-a-clown scene.)

The project suggests that, having completed his Bela Tarr phase, Van Sant is now embarked on a series of films visiting key moments in counter-cultural history. Where Milk tells the story of a homosexual man’s attempts to guide his lifestyle into the mainstream, Acid Test imagines the opposite–a revolt against societal norms, where the weapon is both the human imagination and the contents of Owsley Stanley‘s bathtub. The movie is also part of a wave of nostalgia for the days of Happenings, Be-ins and Free Love. Ang Lee has just completed Taking Woodstock, while Milk star James Franco is playing Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings.

Is Van Sant the right man for the job? Who would be your choice to play Ken Kesey? (We’re thinking Patton Oswalt.) Or even Wolfe? Let us know in the comments.

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One Response to “Gus Van Sant Gets on the Bus”

  1. langdon Says:

    Harrelson is the obvious choice over Jack Black, yet I still feel that this film adaptation should learn more towards unknown actors.

    Also, does anyone have any information on casting calls?

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