Watching the hippie-era documentary Medicine Ball Caravan, it’s plain that Warner Bros. threw a bunch of money at the project, elaborately filming a counterculture group’s colorful trek from San Francisco to the heartland, then enlisting Martin Scorsese, credited as the film’s executive producer and post-production supervisor, to jazz up the footage with creative editing and ironic musical counterpoints. Yet all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t enough to make this film anything more than a tacky attempt at exploiting the popularity of Ken Kesey’s “magic trip” escapades of the ’60s, which were documented in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 nonfiction book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Since no feature-length film emerged from Kesey’s exploits, the plan at Warner Bros. must have been to point cameras at the next group of drugged-out adventurers departing from the Bay Area for parts unknown. Unfortunately, hoping that documentarians will capture something important is not the same as actually capturing something important. Notwithstanding some decent musical performances, by random acts including Alice Cooper and B.B. King, Medicine Ball Caravan is a forgettable slice of Woodstock-era life.
Comprising about 150 people in more than a dozen vehicles, the titular caravan traveled to various cities over the course of 21 days, ostensibly to spread the peace-and-love ethos. Concerts were staged in various cities to draw locals, and the hope, one assumes, was to create educational encounters between hippies and straights. A few such interactions happen, as when the film’s French-born director, François Reichenbach, chats up an old cowboy who says he digs the hippies’ rebel spirit. Showing a flair for the overdramatic, Reichenbach then gushes, “You’re the most wonderful man I ever met!” Pleasant as it is to see a cosmopolitan artist leave his bubble, moments like this one don’t resonate, especially since Reichenbach (and/or Scorsese) devotes so much screen time to nonsense. In one scene, a guy whacked out on dope spews motor-mouthed gibberish, and in another, longhaired dudes—as well as Reichenbach’s camera—ogle hippie chicks while they take a group shower. Editing gimmicks including split-screen imagery do little to enliven the material.
Still, it’s not as if Medicine Ball Caravan—sometimes known as We Have Come for Your Daughters—is a total waste. As one of the caravan participants says, “Half of this is groovy and half of it is rotten—we’ll groove on the groovy part of it and try to make the rotten part better.” Fair enough.
Medicine Ball Caravan: FUNKY