The Real OGs of OC
The Newport Beach Film Festival concluded its 17th year, and I salute our neighbors to the north for a job well done. They may not have our scenery or soul, but they have plenty of parking, plus movie screens to exhibit over 350 films from 50 countries. There’s always some gems you will never see elsewhere. Some of which take place here.
This year was no exception. There were three films on very different subjects that all told us something about our community. It’s delightful viewing them with a partisan crowd, and then meeting the filmmakers and subjects.
The first was “Dirty Old Wedge,” an overdue paean to Orange County’s most epic and dangerous big wave, and the colorful characters who bodysurf it. There’s probably no other wave like it in the world, and its claimed its share of lives and vertebra. In the rarefied world of bodysurfing, it’s the Super Bowl.
But what made this film memorable among surf films was the heartfelt camaraderie between the regulars, who in the nascent ‘70s dubbed themselves the “Wedge Crew.” These guys knew they had the Mecca of bodysurfing to themselves, and they partied like the rock stars they were. Then in the ‘80s came the invasion of boogie boards, which one crew member likened to someone knocking at your door and saying they are moving in with 500 of their closest friends.
Beyond the usual fistfights endemic to any territorial break, the crew did something remarkable and effective: they put on suits and went to City Hall, arguing that the cultural heritage of the Wedge was at stake. In a landmark ruling, they won, and during the summer months since, they still have the Wedge to themselves. I think we’re all better off for it. Watching these guys harness the pulverizing force of these faces so gracefully is a thing of sublime beauty.
The film reminded me of “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” the documentary about a gang of outsider skateboarders in Venice, which led to a theatrical release called “Lords of Dogtown.” Maybe a film executive will catch this little gem and make a theatrical version that will, of course, get it all wrong.
The next film was “La Tradition,” about French chef Pascal Olhats, who came to Newport to establish his eponymous restaurant back when Orange County was a gastronomic backwater. Of course he’s a culinary pioneer who civilized the savages. But more than that, Pascal was and continues to be a teacher and mentor. And we get to meet many of his kitchen alumni, who are now the starting lineup of OC celebrity chefs. It was great to hear their war stories working in Pascal’s tiny, broiling kitchen, turning out hundreds of meals a night. The pressure and camaraderie was incredible, not unlike the lineup at the Wedge. Make the wave in Pascal’s kitchen, you’ll make it anywhere!
The final film in this troika was the one so many of us in Laguna have been waiting for: “Orange Sunshine,” the true story of the infamous Brotherhood of Eternal Love and their production of over 100 million hits of acid. (And they say Laguna has no industry!) This was the film that Oliver Stone should have made instead of that reprehensible “Savages,” with Salma Hayak as a Mexican drug lord who kidnaps a polyamorous Laguna girl and holds her hostage in exchange for some primo Laguna weed. The only storyline about Laguna more ridiculous than “The Real OC.”
But the Brotherhood was a story made for the movies. The group had achieved mythic status, mostly because their members denied it ever happened. Yet after years and years of persistence, young filmmaker William Kirkley finally won their trust and compelled the principle players to tell their stories. And he nailed it with a story so imaginatively shot, edited, told and scored (by Matt Costa), I think it could launch his career. I was skeptical that a low budget, indie film could effectively tell the cinematic tale of a small group of idealistic hippies and surfers dealing LSD, not to get rich, but to turn the world on to its mind expansive possibilities.
But here’s what makes the film so endearing. Any film, really. Beneath this massive criminal enterprise, involving overland treks from Germany to Afghanistan and shipping carloads of hash back, it’s a love story. It’s about a pair of besties, John Griggs and Mike Randall, who discovered spiritual enlightenment through LSD and wanted to share it with the world. John died tragically at 26, but Mike continued the crusade, and in a beautiful twist of fate, fell in love and married John’s widow, Carol. They’ve been together ever since. In the audience Q and A afterwards, they said they still do acid, but stress it is not a party drug. They seemed very happy, lucid and enlightened after all these years. They even just published “A Psychedelic Guide,” to help people take acid as a sacrament. You know it’s based on extensive research.
So there it is: acid, soufflé, and A frames. Who’s got it better than us?
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected].