A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. We’re off to see the wizard.
Many clichés swirl around stories about road trips, and the three above are cited during Eric Saperston’s “The Journey,” but this documentary is much more than that. The John Naisbitt quote at the beginning of the film—“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge”—really says it all. This is a movie about the need to connect with previous generations for the wisdom they possess and the self-discovery that results from such a connection.
No matter what you think of the hodge-podge of advice that Saperston doles out from self-help gurus, corporate CEOs (luckily, no one from Enron, Global Crossing, or Tyco makes an appearance in this film), celebrities, and politicians, you have to admire the guy’s cajones. Here’s someone who decided to follow the Grateful Dead in a VW bus the summer after college graduation and who was challenged by his advisor to make the trip meaningful by calling up prominent people and asking them for interviews.
Many of us probably would have blown off such advice and headed out to have a good time before finding a job and entering the real world. Not Saperston, who took the suggestion to heart and soon found himself in the company of former President Jimmy Carter, Ritz-Carlton CEO Horst Schulze, and others, many of them revealing personal stories that are extraordinary. His achievement is even more impressive when you realize that he was staying at campgrounds and making his interview requests from pay phones.
But that was just the beginning. An opportunity to interview former Texas governor Ann Richardson (who was still in office at the time; most of the film was shot in 1995 and 1996) led to a meeting with Henry Winkler. The Producer Formerly Known as The Fonz in turn hooked Saperston and crew (he added three people along the way, including a former crew member from MTV’s Road Rules) up with talent agency ICM and Disney, where they hoped to turn their project into a TV show.
The Journey crew—which became a formal endeavor at some point, as witnessed by the appearance of “The Journey” T-shirts and Saperston’s frequent references to the group as a company when he becomes upset at a college buddy, Dave Murcott, who joined the trip—also interviewed random 20-somethings on the street along the way, and those people consistently told them they should speak to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. This quest pushes the second half of the film toward a climax that culminates in lessons learned, lessons that will probably resonate with you no matter what age you are (unless, I suppose, you’re one of those people who has all the answers in life; I’m not one of them). Much of the film also deals with the personal trials and tribulations of the filmmakers, especially Saperston and Murcott, both of whom had familial relationships that they tried to mend during the trip.
While the story meanders at first, keep in mind that Saperston developed his ideas on the go as he interviewed people, added to his crew, and continued traveling. His first interview, with Carter, wasn’t even videotaped because making a film hadn’t occurred to him at the time. His original hope was to do a TV show for Disney, which signed the group to a development deal, but when that fell through he turned his footage into a short film (which is also on this DVD) and then later assembled the longer version.
This DVD also includes a dozen vignettes put together for Volkswagen, a lengthy series of outtakes, a talk Saperston delivered at some kind of trade show (the location isn’t clear), a trailer, and an audio commentary full of anecdotes from Saperston, director of photography Kathleen Kelly (the Road Rules veteran), and producer Patrick Jones (who must have joined the team later as he isn’t in the documentary). It’s so much stuff that the video suffers a bit of edge enhancement from compression, although that’s not really a problem since most documentaries aren’t known for spectacular cinematography (not to take anything away from Kelly’s work; she grabs some very nice shots in this film). It would have been nice, though, to see the extras moved to a second disc, complete with even more outtakes from the over 500 hours of footage they shot.
While many documentaries are merely curiosities worth a rental more than a purchase, “The Journey” holds up after repeat viewings. It’s a great film to show to friends and family when they visit; its themes connect with members of all generations.
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