By Rita Robinson | NB Indy
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,” screens 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, said Kirkley, 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, who was born in Newport Beach and is now a commercial director in New York City.
During the seven years of filming his first version, 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, who curated the art at Mystic Arts World, said “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.”
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.
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’s 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.
The Randalls and their family, and members of the Brotherhood, are planning a reunion at the film’s two screenings, said Kirkley.
According to the virtual reality studio Master of Shapes, the filmmakers worked with Master of Shapes to craft an accompanying VR experience, “Origins,” that immerses viewers deep into the narrative of the story and lets them feel like they are on acid themselves via the HTC Vive headset during the festival’s VR Lounge seminar series on Saturday, April 23 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Newport Beach Public Library Friends Room. The event is free and does not require advance tickets.
For more information and tickets to the screenings, visit NewportBeachFilmFestival.com.