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Go Further Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/25/2005

Let’s face it:  documentaries are just political statements now…or at least the most interesting ones are.  The most successful one in history (if you don’t count the IMAX movies) is last year’s Fahrenheit 9/11.  Before that was Bowling for Columbine.  Michael Moore, of course, directed both of those documentaries.  What I had originally thought was an even-handed doc about gun control in Columbine was blown out of the water when I learned that he had skewed the facts to make his point.  Same thing went for Fahrenheit.  At least both films were entertaining though (well…Fahrenheit was just okay, entertainment-wise.)  Go Further is actor Woody Harrelson’s second collaboration with documentary director Ron Mann, and it makes absolutely no attempt to show another point of view.  Also, despite some small entertaining parts, it was boring overall.

In 2001 (a few months before 9/11), Harrelson had taken a small break from the acting world to go on a bike ride tour and lecture to like-minded political activists (i.e. hippies.)  The film documents his trek along the Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to Santa Barbara, CA, with several stops along the way to different colleges and universities to preach his philosophies.  The trip was inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey’s LSD-fueled 1964 bus trip (the bus was a multicolored bus named Further that looked like the one on “The Partridge Family.”)  That trip was portrayed in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, where Kesey and his band of “Merry Pranksters” traveled across the country to the New York World’s Fair, making several stops along the way to have people experiment with LSD mixed into Kool-Aid (I don’t know what the point of it was, but whatever.)  Harrelson’s trip was called the Simple Organic Living tour (S.O.L.), and his bike ride was followed by its own bus, fueled by hempseed oil (this one actually had better artwork on the side though.)

The bus was filled with a band of “Merry Hempsters”…all hippies with different variations of hippie messages that they wanted to send.  Leading the pack was a guy named Steve Clark, a former production assistant for NBC’s “Will & Grace” that Harrelson had met when the actor had done a multi-episode arc as Grace’s boyfriend.  Clark was a self-professed “junk food junkie,” and magically, of course, he warms up to the philosophies of organic living (more on him later…mainly because he seems to get the most screen time, along with Harrelson.)  Joe Hickey is a hemp activist who had founded a non-wood agricultural based pulp and paper mill that uses hemp instead of wood.  During the movie, he ends up injuring himself and going to the hospital (there wasn’t much of a point to his injury, but it did make the movie spike up the entertainment level, after boring the audience with Harrelson’s preaching.)  Tom Ballanco is a lawyer who dedicates his time to environmental causes and defends hippies in court.  He rides his bike with an American flag on the back, but the flag is actually upside-down (he in fact manages to offend Harrelson slightly with the political statement, making Ballanco rethink what he was trying to say with the flag.)  Renee Loux Underkoffler is a raw food chef and author who had founded a raw food restaurant in Hawaii in 1996.  She made all of the food for the people on the bus, including a chocolate avocado cake that everyone seemed to love (it looked disgusting to me, but I’m not a big fan of avocadoes.)  Jessica Chung is a Seattle-based yoga and dance instructor.  She teaches both Harrelson and Clark all sorts of wacky positions throughout the movie.

The bus also had a few of Harrelson’s employees tagging along, and they were all the least interesting people to watch.  Joe Lewis was the driver for the tour bus.  He had met Harrelson on the set of White Men Can’t Jump.  Sonia Farrell was the S.O.L. tour manager.  She smoked, drank, and talked on her cell phone the whole time.  Laura Louie was the Webmaster for Harrelson’s voiceyourself.com website dedicated to teaching people about sustainable living and selling organic products.  Like Chung, she didn’t do much talking in the movie.

As I was saying earlier, a chunk of the movie was devoted to Clark.  His “education” starts with Harrelson telling him that milk is bad because it is filled with “blood and pus” (whatever…)  Clark takes it on face value and believes it, instead of actually trying to research Harrelson’s claims.  He still has a hard time giving up his junk food addiction though, and in one odd scene, he goes to a grocery store and buys up tons of meat and junk food (including something called “chicken in a can.”)  He meets Linda, a cute British college student from San Francisco State, whom he hits on under the guise of political activism.  He invites her to one of Harrelson’s lectures, thinking that she won’t be there.  She ends up going, and despite seeming fairly intelligent, becomes brainwashed into joining Clark and Harrelson on the tour.  Together they spout all of this hippie propaganda, and at one point, Linda and Clark go off together alone to fool around (or at least that’s what they hint at.)  By the end of the movie, Clark has given up junk food and cigarettes, and he shouts “Say no to corndogs” through a bullhorn.  He is actually the only interesting character in the movie at all.

Aside from the exploits of Harrelson and his Hempsters, they meet several colorful characters along the way (I said “colorful,” not “interesting.”)  They meet a guy named Earthquake, who runs a worm ranch.  Also, they meet a couple of organic farmers, whose farms were about as exciting as those educational filmstrips we all saw in high school.  They went to the Procession of the Species parade (yawn.)  They also visited the Ruckus Society, who train activists in ways to protest safely without being harmed or arrested (this was odd, but not particularly interesting.)  Finally, Harrelson got to meet his mentor Kesey along the tour in Pleasant Hills, OR, and he was as dull as dishwater (Kesey died in November of 2001, several months after the movie had wrapped, and they acknowledged his passing during the credits.)

You can probably see where I stand politically (I’m a Libertarian), but even if I agreed with everything in the movie, I think that I still would have found it boring.  This is the first movie I’ve seen from Mann, but looking over his filmography, I think that I would have probably liked his early films better.  Mann directed movies in the past that dealt with topics like jazz music, comic books, and early ‘60s pop music.  It wasn’t until his 1999 documentary Grass that he started to get political (unless those previous docs had political elements that I don’t know of.)  Grass was about the war against marijuana, and even though I support the abolition of marijuana laws (I don’t smoke it myself, but do support others’ rights to smoke it), if I had to guess, I would bet that it showed only one side of the argument (I’m sure Harrelson influenced it heavily.)  This movie didn’t try to show the other side.  For me, I enjoy seeing a political documentary that shows both sides, even when one side obviously has their own specific opinion.  The best case that I know of in even-handedness is the Showtime documentary series “Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!”  In it, the magicians show both sides of an argument (and then they give their Libertarian opinion later.)  By showing both sides, it makes it more enjoyable for the audience, even if you don’t agree with the viewpoints.  Another case is the excellent Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me, where filmmaker Moran Spurlock showed both sides of the argument over whether or not fast food was bad for you.  Spurlock obviously was against it, but he did attempt to show the other side, and he offered proof as to why he had his viewpoint.  That is something that Moore couldn’t offer.  Aside from being one-sided essentially, Moore’s credibility was questioned by many people (including me.)  This movie was well intentioned, and it didn’t appear to be manipulative, but because they were so blinded by their hippie ideals, it came off as being one-sided.

If you are a liberal, or a vegan, or a tree-hugger, you might like Go Further.  Let me stress this word…might.  You may end up agreeing with everything in the movie, but you will be bored anyway.  I think that if they had attempted to make the movie more entertaining, they may have been able to influence more people.  Harrelson apparently has the power to convert many people with his words, but aside from the “blood and pus” lecture, the movie doesn’t show much of his lecturing at the colleges (the appearances usually just show the tail end of them.)  Maybe if people who went to see this movie went to one of his lectures, they may be able to tell me why Harrelson had this power.  Maybe I just don’t get it either, because I’m not on Mary Jane (or hemp, or wacky tobacky, or whatever.)  I’ll guess I’ll never know.

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