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Orange Sunshine was an extraordinary substance made with love to spread life and truth.

SXSW Film Review: ‘Orange Sunshine’

Orange Sunshine, William A. Kirkley, SXSW
‘Orange Sunshine’ by director/screenwriter William A. Kirkley at SXSW. Photo courtesy of the film.

The 1960s ushered in a cultural revolution whose contributions we still experience today. It was a time of social upheaval, political protest upholding democratic ideals. It was a time when Timothy Leary, whom Nixon later dubbed as “the most dangerous man in America,” told everyone “turn on, tune in and drop out.” It was a time of Orange Sunshine, a popular dynamic substance and title of the illuminating documentary written and directed by William A. Kirkley. Orange Sunshine is the true story of the mainstream culture’s perceived “dangerous” mission of Leary, psychedelics and the people who created an LSD empire so that its effects on human consciousness might change the world.

In his examination of the people who helped to encourage this cultural revolution, Kirkley elucidates what Leary knew and what Nixon and conservatives feared: the metamorphosis of the dulled mindset and voting inclinations of an easily manipulated, materialistic, unthinking citizenry. Leary’s goal was for LSD to provide spiritual enlightenment to the country’s youth so that they would become the countervailing force against corrupt, authoritarian government. His hope was that with inner growth toward expanding states of consciousness, people would eschew nullifying social constructs that supported racism, wanton militarism, and institutional inequity for women and minorities. His lectures and interviews encouraged an atmosphere of brotherhood which, in addition to all the rest, would explode the convenient paranoia about communism. It was a paranoia that fomented an out-of-control nuclear arms race and empowered the military industrial complex and defense industry to establish a war machine in perpetuity. LSD could change the way people thought. It could make them think for themselves.

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Orange Sunshine, SXSW documentary feature
Banner for The Brotherhood of Eternal Love in ‘Orange Sunshine,’ at SXSW. Photo from the film.

Kirkley’s film is a profound tribute to the people at the forefront of this movement for spiritual enlightenment. They followed Leary’s path by using mind-altering stimulants like LSD, cannabis, hash, mescaline and psilocybin. They intended that the deeper people went within their own planes of consciousness, the more authentic and truthful they became. For those like Leary and The Brotherhood of Eternal Love (the name of the group’s movement), LSD provided a revolution of the soul and reduction of the need to fear, be ego defensive and control others. It could unmask the veneers of human behavior and break down barriers that divided people; it could make them more loving to one another. The end result would create interconnectedness and people’s desire to improve not only themselves but their environment and everything they touched and used.

Kirkley introduces us to the major players of this revolution who venerated Leary and embraced his philosophy to inspire the journey of understanding one’s purpose and place in the cosmos. Their story begins in Orange County, California in the earlier 60s with John Griggs who is one of the first of The Brotherhood to try LSD. Eventually, he meets and falls in love with Carol Griggs whom, after he marries, “turns on.” The network of seers, surfers and spiritualists includes Ron and Rick Bevan, Michael Randall and others. Their bond was to use LSD to promote enlightenment and universal connections toward the higher realms that some refer to as God.  As they progressed along their intense personal and communal vistas, LSD opened up a metaphoric world of understanding and transfigured every aspect of their lives.

President Richard Nixon, Orange Sunshine, SXSW
Richard Nixon consolidated power with his “War on Drugs.” ‘Orange Sunshine’ at SXSW. Photo from the film.

With uncanny synchronicity as the counterculture took root, word and deed spread and more individuals used LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, hash, etc. Kirkley through photographs and interviews reveals that after John Griggs met Timothy Leary and Ram Das, who further inspired them toward an intensification of their movement to use LSD, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love strengthened and widened their vision as they made their own LSD and sold it.

Like Leary they believed that they could galvanize momentous lifestyle transformations because they had the faith that their “orange sunshine” (the most popular of all of their LSD pills), would spark the desire for personal evolution. This in turn would converge alternate “doors of perception” which would make it easy for others to see that hatred, violence, materialism, greed, selfishness and cruelty were inherently self-destroying. Kirkley indicates that in the latter part of the 60s as The Brotherhood’s LSD empire burgeoned and became increasingly profitable, their core values remained anti-materialistic, transcendent and more like Native Peoples’ who used only what they needed. The members of The Brotherhood were the antithesis of conspicuous consumers who had to purchase the latest trending items which to them were meaningless and ultimately worthless. For profiteers, conservatives and corporations who intended to increase their bottom line, “hippies out to make it rich and live rich” were what the culture needed, not anti-capitalists like The Brotherhood.

Orange Sunshine, SXSW documentary feature, Ron Bevan, Afghanistan
Ron Bevan in Afghanistan (1969) in ‘Orange Sunshine’ at SXSW. Photo courtesy of Ron Bevan and the film.

To his credit, Kirkley manifests the importance of this church of spiritual reckoning which propels The Brotherhood toward their goals. Using recreations, archival footage of Laguna Beach and other locales, Timothy Leary and other icons, photographs of events and amazing interview clips of the subjects, we understand what The Brotherhood was trying to do and how law enforcement, who didn’t “get” what they were about, was incapable of stopping them (some of these stories are hysterical).

Kirkley’s account is fascinating in that it reveals another time, another world view, another way of being. Members traveled to Europe and Afghanistan and returned with pounds and pounds of the best hash in the world which they sold. There were few security checks between countries and no wars in the Middle East; the situation was open.  Kirkley follows The Brotherhood into the history books and we learn that they become the largest suppliers of LSD in the world.

Kirkley’s talents demonstrate a fine sense of history and a feel for the ethos of the time and the depth and complexity of the subjects interviewed who relate an astonishing chronicle. It shows how their idealism and innocence led them with uncanny abandon to overcome law enforcement’s surveillance and detection, thwarting capture and seizure in their pursuit of their paramount mission. They succeeded in “turning on” a generation of youth who rallied around a culture that eschewed war, protested against civil rights abuses, supported women’s rights and so successfully upended support for the war in Viet Nam that Johnson didn’t run a second term.

William A. Kirkley, Carol Randall, Midhael Randall, Orange Sunshine, SXSW
(L -R) William A. Kirkley, Carol Randall, Michael Randall in the ‘Orange Sunshine’ Q & A at SXSW. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

It wasn’t to last. To complete his own agenda and strengthen his own power, Richard Nixon effected a war on drugs with PR campaigns led by conservatives who stood against the “nefarious drug culture” and “the most dangerous man in America.” LSD was made illegal like cannabis. Legal, “benign” pharmaceuticals triumphed over herbals, and hallucinogenic plants like peyote cactus and other harmless stimulants that have few if any side effects, are non addictive and are much less cumulatively harmful than oxycodone, opiates. and other side-effect ridden legal drugs prescribed by doctors today.

When Nixon succeeded, the left-leaning shift in the culture was quashed. The divisiveness between left and right, with three assassinations (Malcom X, King, Kennedy), that occurred during this transformative time, widened. By the 1970s Nixon with his “Silent Majority” manipulated the mainstream with the mantra of representing “traditional family values.” With combined law enforcement assets the largest LSD empire in the world was shuttered, and with it the impetus of the social revolution.

By the end of The Brotherhood’s saga, the members saw jail time and one was no longer with them, a devastation that none of them really overcame. The democratic forward momentum  of the country was set to retrograde conservatism. The intense political divisiveness that has continued to this day, keeps the powerful upper class haves, a fractional percentage of the entire populace, lobbying for more power and profits. They have been achieving their mission like clockwork and we have been at war or have had troops in combat zones since the end of Viet Nam.

This purposeful, astounding, well edited and conceived film functions of many levels. It is an adventure story, a story of alternative lifestyles and anti-heroes, a story of friendships that never die and above all a love story and an honest desire for people to achieve an inner tranquility, light and wholeness. It is also the amazing untold story of the 1960s generation and their “naive” hope that human beings could work together democratically to save themselves and the planet.

Much good came from this period, for example the enduring values of seeking personal enlightenment through meditation and self-help. The time gave rise to the hippies “green” anti-industrial impulses, local, organic sustainable agriculture, alternative energy, holistic and herbal medicine, homeopathy to name a few. Each has engendered viable movements against global corporate hegemony and the knowledge that if we are not careful, such corporate structures will devastate future generations who cannot survive on an untenable earth.

The film is a must see for its humanity, its hope and for the idealist in you. Treat yourself.


About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, novelist and poet. She authors three blogs: The Fat and the Skinny, All Along the NYC Skyline, A Christian Apologists' Sonnets. She contributed articles for Technorati on various trending topics. She guest writes for other blogs. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely.

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