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  • by Dion Wright

Review of William Kirkley's Film, Orange Sunshine

I started this review by telling William Kirkley his film, Orange Sunshine, is a home run, and now I'm reflecting more incisively on it. It's such a work of Art that I'm repeatedly tempted to compare it to a Shakespeare play. I wouldn't want to cause his head to swell, but the point is not blithely taken.

Good drama, Shakespeare in particular, is characterized by simplicity of choosing a few elements and exploring them through the depths of moral change in a short-term time-frame. It's an exercise in thoroughness expressed with brevity; sort of like an iceberg which we see in partial majesty, knowing the majority of the phenomenon is hidden beneath the surface where the finesse of the artist is to successfully imply all that we cannot see. All of this is attempted by William through some unusual, to say the least, strictures. I'm going to try to judge how well he did his job, already deemed a "home run" by analyzing, a little, what he left out.

When I wrote my book, Tempus Fugitive, which included my relationship with John Griggs, I was at pains to keep Mike Randall's name out of my narrative completely. When mentioning him couldn't be avoided, I used a pseudonym, "Long Drink". After some practice decades, my writing effort really got going about twenty years ago. It went through six re-writes to get to a form I deemed acceptable. All that time I regarded Mike as a person who needed to maintain privacy and discretion with regard to his doings in the 60s. For all I knew, he was still operating illegally and avoiding scrutiny. Ordinarily, between a writer and his subject, this would mean nothing, but I was bound to Mike by a sort of hippie omerta, and loath to violate it. So I wrote about John, making it as true and factual as I could, but without the character of Mike Randall.

My native cynicism should have informed me in front that such a fraught subject as John Griggs was likely to be a minefield in unexpected ways. Not like blowing off body parts, to be sure, but, alas, I was entering that well-known Land of Unanticipated Consequences. As it turned out, everybody loved my book EXCEPT Mike Randall, and a few of his followers. His objections were not of fact at all, but of opinion! He didn't want me to have my honest opinions...more on that in a while.

As I was reaching the peroration of my work, William Kirkley, in person, appeared over my horizon. With some film-making success under his belt he clearly had the temperament of a creative artist. He'd found me through Nick Schou's book, Orange Sunshine, which was the opening salvo in media that began to peel back the obscurity surrounding the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. He told it like a journalist, without any pussy-footing around what he regarded as the facts. Whether they all were facts or not, a great uproar followed his publication. Surviving fellow-travelers of the mythically golden past felt maligned by the cold shower of reality. Before he published, Nick came to me as a potential source of information.

I felt the way Charles Darwin must have felt when Alfred Russell Wallace sent him the theory of evolution he had concocted in months, which was so similar to the theory that Darwin had formed, and prevaricated about, for years and years. I could help Nick or not help him, with my own book approaching completion, as I say, after decades. I decided to help him. My reasoning was that Nick was sure to publish his book with or without me, and that with me he was more likely to arrive at verisimilitude than he would if I clammed up. One way or the other, it was a piece of History overdue in its revelation.

So here came William Kirkley. Having helped Nick, and having assessed William as a gold standard of some kind, I decided to help him, too. I yarned away like an old sailor on a wharf, took him through "Dodge City", and gave him some names to approach to fill out his tale with those who would allow themselves to be interviewed on camera, starting, I suppose, with me. As it happened, there were plenty of participants, some of them patently false, who wanted to tell their stories, down to and including the Officah Pup of the saga, sober-sided Neal Purcell, who played Pat Garrett to Timothy Leary's Billy the Kid. After years of scuffling after the grail, William had met and interviewed a lot of people, except the most important couple in the dramatis personae, Mike Randall and Carol Griggs Randall, who viewed him, it seemed, as a toxic viper invading their precincts. That was a tough view to hold onto, I guess, in the benign presence of William himself, so he was gradually, and perhaps magically, able to bring the Randalls into the center of his work, the very place where they should be. Apparently there were some prosciptions and limits to be agreed upon, but it was worked out some way or another, to be best revealed eventually by William.

William must be as talented as Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters and Carl Jung all rolled into one, for he created a sense of security in front of the camera that brought Mike and Carol to a courageous opening of their inner selves, and a sharing of the most intimate and painful moments of their dramatic lives. I couldn't have done it, what they did in their revelations, so forthright and inherently honest that it breaks your heart. So the film is a triumph of truth and far as it goes. And it really does go far enough to triumph as a work of Art, except that too much was left out to qualify it as History. A lot of those overlooked aspects are in Tempus Fugitive. Some of us, of course, pine for other people's recollections and different points-of view.

The consternation which has fizzed and popped along the grapevine can be boiled-down to the divergence between created mythology and contradictory facts and opinions that started to come out along with the several publications. In the case of Mike and me, I have a less than a worshipful attitude toward Timothy Leary, which apparently angers him, and I lack a true-believer's respect for the chemical, "Sunshine". I never had other than a nightmare scenario with Sunshine as far as that substance is concerned, and I knew far too much about Tim to elevate him beyond his due. Because I said what I thought, Mike decided to loom over me and condemn my opinions on the very verge of my having to moderate a panel of experts, including HIM, at the Mystic Arts World retrospective exhibition at OCCC last August, regarding Psychedelic Art and the times it emerged from. This in-my-face confrontation was literally one minute before I was obliged own the aplomb of Talleyrand in orchestrating this fraught and complicated affair.

Clearly Mike was employing tactics against me which he had found effective in the schoolyard in days of yore, and later, but I'm immune to all that stuff. I absorbed his attempt at bullying, and went on to conduct a great panel discussion, all filmed by...William Kirkley.

So here we are with William's created gem of a film complete, balanced, modest, pointed, thorough, sensitive, funny, tearful and professional, only leaving out Norm Babcock the Good Cop, the divergence of opinion within the Brotherhood about Dr. Leary, and various tragic events and scurrilous characters for investigation and remembrance in other, later projects. In film, at least, and as Art, I hardly think William Kirkley's Orange Sunshine will be surpassed. It's an instant classic.

Dion Wright - 2016

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