After seven years of work completing a “fun drug-smuggling tale” about the LSD-deifying Brotherhood of Eternal Love from Laguna Beach, documentary filmmaker William Kirkley canned the whole thing.
He had finally found the real story within the story, and started over, all of it at his own expense.
It took him another three years to capture the twist of fate that underpinned the Brotherhoods’ nearly 20-year outlaw movement for cultural change. There was more to the story than world peace on LSD. There was a love story.
The documentary, “Orange Sunshine, the True Story of Friends, Family and One Hundred Million Hits of Acid,” opens at the Newport Beach Film Festival, April 23 and 26. Many of the real people the film is based on are expected to gather for a Brotherhood reunion at both screenings.
Nearly 30 percent of the movie is scripted re-enactments, Kirkley said in an interview this week, since drug smugglers are notoriously camera-shy and little archival material is available.
Because of that, the film runs like a feature, he said, rather than an historical account of what was a major LSD-making and marijuana and hashish smuggling operation in Laguna Beach. A pirates’ tale swaddled in intimate love and spiritual enlightenment, the film lends itself to mass appeal and larger distribution, which is in the works, said Kirkley, a commercial director in New York City.
During the seven years of filming his first take, Kirkley diligently pursued a hunch that the real story lay with Carol Griggs, the under-the-radar widow of the man who made the Brotherhood happen, John Griggs.
“They never told their story before,” said Kirkley. “They’re fiercely protective of it. Every other story I’ve read about the Brotherhood is an account from people not as intimately connected to John as Carol was. What better way to show that than to explore this love story, which makes for a better drug-smuggling tale?”
John Griggs founded the Brotherhood of Eternal Love in 1965 and was decreed by avid LSD-advocate and defrocked Harvard professor Timothy Leary as his spiritual guru. Griggs was a tough-guy malcontent from Anaheim who “saw God” the first time he took LSD in 1963.
After stealing the drug from a Hollywood producer at gunpoint, Griggs and his buddy drove back to OC, popping pills along the way. “They took a lot,” Kirkley said, and Griggs ran for miles in the middle of the night to tell his wife and high-school sweetheart, Carol, how much he loved her and that LSD was the antidote to hate and war. “He was completely transformed,” said Kirkley, from thug to flower child with one whopping dose.
As the Brotherhood grew, Griggs careened his gang into a tax-exempt church anchored by the headshop Mystic Arts
World on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, making the quiet beach town the epicenter of the hippie culture in Southern California.
But any trip can turn bad, as it did for Griggs. Griggs died at 26 in 1969 from a drug overdose. More than a year after his death, the infamous Christmas Happening rock concert, where thousands of tabs of acid were dropped on 25,000 unsuspecting concertgoers, mushroomed in Laguna Canyon.
Artist Dion Wright curated the art at Mystic Arts World. “I recognized William Kirkley as a fellow-artist who was intelligent enough to create something good out of a million different threads and he has apparently succeeded in doing so,” said Wright, who also helped organize an exhibition about Mystic Arts last summer at Coastline Community College.
The altruistic cause of spreading high-intensity brotherly love was taken up by Griggs’ best friend, Michael Randall, who ultimately married his widow. Both carried on Griggs’ doctrine that acid was the catalyst for unconditional love, Kirkley said. They were arrested in 1983.
“They weren’t interested in material possessions,” Kirkley said. “They didn’t buy the nice, new cars. They weren’t ones to flaunt any wealth. That was the second generation that came in later and got dubbed the hippie mafia. That’s when things changed.”
Kirkley’s interviews with Griggs and Randall revealed a story that unfolds from an unfortunate twist of fate and unexpected turn of heart. It’s a tale far removed from the band of merry pranksters and police raids in a canyon neighborhood local narcotics officers referred to as Dodge City.
And it’s told by a man who’s experienced the magic of Laguna in his own right.
Kirkley was born in Newport Beach and his father, Billy Kirkley, later lived in Laguna Beach. His grandmother, Willy Manser, sold paintings at the Sawdust Art Festival. He recalls Sawdust artist “Starman” Starr Shields airbrushing flower-child designs on his face as a boy.
Shields, who celebrates his 50th year at the Sawdust this summer, also airbrushed psychedelic designs on surfboards that reportedly figured in the Brotherhood’s drug smuggling. The hollowed-out Styrofoam boards were a prank, claims Shields, to throw off the police. “One or two of my boards may have been broken in half,” said Shields. “The brotherhood just said they were doing that to harass the cops because the cops weren’t getting anywhere.”
The Randalls and their family and members of the Brotherhood are planning a reunion at the film’s two Newport Beach showings, said Kirkley. The movie was named “Orange Sunshine” before the book with the same title came out in 2010, written by OC Weekly writer Nick Schou. Schou named his book with permission from Kirkley.
Correction appended, April 8: Schou clarifies that he did not request permission from Kirkley to name his book “Orange Sunshine.” This was the title that book’s publisher St. Martin’s Press selected for the book, which was based on Schou’s article “Lords of Acid”, published in OC Weekly in July, 2005.
Fans Ready for Film Fest Buffet
By Christopher Trela | NB Indy
Film fans and filmmakers will descend on Newport Beach April 21-28 to enjoy the 17th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, which this year features more than 400 films from 50 countries, a new record.
The world premiere of “After the Reality,” starring Matthew Morrison (who grew up in Orange County) opens the festival. The final curtain belongs to “The Fixer” starring James Franco.
Other noted screenings during the festival: “El Dorado” starring John Wayne, a special Disney program with rarities from the Disney vaults, a documentary on local celebrity chef Pascal Olhats, and “Orange Sunshine,” a film about a notorious period in Laguna Beach.
Special honorees include Rita Moreno and Burt Bacharach, both of whom have films in the festival.
In between are an enormous variety of feature films, shorts, documentaries, action sports films, and music videos, plus filmmaker seminars and an expo with industry experts.
Festival co-founders Gregg Schwenk and Todd Quartararo, plus programmers Max Naylor and Cade Russell, provided a behind the scenes look.
Imagine watching 3,000 films over six months. Seems impossible, but the festival staff perform this feat screening submissions, said Naylor. Each is viewed a minimum of five times before a decision is made whether or not to include it in the festival.
Many of the films are short subjects, yet the volume would be daunting if not for the many volunteers who screen and review the submitted films, he said.
Some films are individually selected to open and close the festival, or to anchor nightly spotlights on certain genres or countries.
The opening kick-off premiere will be shown at the Edwards Big Newport theater. “It’s a great romantic comedy and we’re proud to have the world premiere, especially with the local connection of Matthew having grown up in Orange County,” said Schwenk.
The opening night reception at Fashion Island includes 30 of the area’s top restaurants, and special performances from “Ka” by Cirque du Soleil. “Those are the things that make me excited,” Quartararo said.
“That’s what sets us apart from other film festivals; the things that Todd and Gregg put together in addition to the films,” noted Naylor.
This year’s extras include filmmaker seminars, nightly receptions, Q&A sessions after screenings, and a film expo at the Newport Beach Civic Center, a new venue for a festival with screenings in 15 theaters in Fashion Island and The Triangle in Costa Mesa.
Other new programming additions include environmental, sports (separate from action sports), new media (including a virtual reality component), and horror, said Russell.
Returning are programming by nation, including spotlights on Germany, Ireland, Asia, and the United Kingdom; and a college filmmaker program at Sage Hill.
Film festival parties are always an annual highlight, and this year is no exception.
“The Friday night event is at Anthropology in Fashion Island,” said Schwenk. “It’s a greatly expanded and enhanced location, it’s a beautiful transformation. They will be reopening that day, so our party is in celebration of their grand opening.”
On Saturday, the party returns to Room & Board in South Coast Village, while Sunday’s bash is held at Muldoon’s Irish Pub—a perfect spot after the Irish showcase movies.
Monday and Tuesday parties are at SOCO in Costa Mesa; Wednesday and Thursday (closing night) will be at Via Lido Plaza, next to the Lido Theater.
The shuttered Lido Theater, which recently announced plans to reopen as a movie theater, previously hosted festival screenings.
“We are talking with the Lido’s ownership and management; hopefully we can have our closing night film there,” said Schwenk. “That whole area is going through a real renaissance, and the opportunity to shine a light on that area is important.”
Schwenk noted that the festival requires 40,000 to 50,000 hours of volunteer time, an amount that expands as more events and activities are added. “Without volunteers, this would not be taking place,” Schwenk said.
For more information and a complete list of films and activities, visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com.
Author Nick Schou clarifies a statement reported in the article “Film ‘Orange Sunshine’ Reveals LSD Love Story” in the April 8 edition. He says he did not request permission from filmmaker William Kirkley to name his book “Orange Sunshine.” The title was selected by publisher St. Martin’s Press for the book, which was based on Schou’s article “Lords of Acid”, published in OC Weekly in July, 2005.
[…] hippie saga of the late 1960s has been written about, argued over, made into art, books and movies. But this time it’s different; the story is coming from the ones who witnessed it all from the […]