The Edge of Paradise (which has previously been titled Taylor Camp and Paradise Found) is Robert C. Stone’s documentary on the “Taylor Camp” hippie living community, which existed on Kaua‘i from 1969-1974. It encapsulates a lost time and recreates a you-had-to-be-there-to-really-get-it living community. Imagine, if you can, a seven-acre stretch of land on the Garden Isle, removed from everything else, in which families, transients, and dedicated hippies came to live together. Kids grew up there, multi-level homes were built, and years full of noteworthy incidents, good and bad, created a near-mythic, idyllic, and controversial living space.
Stone’s film (which was produced by John Wehrheim) celebrates the remarkable living conditions and mindset of those who were a part of the Taylor Camp family but, even better, probes deeply into its infrastructure and how outsiders viewed the establishment. In the early stretch – with generous footage and photos illustrating how it was a place of inventively created homes, with free love, rampant nudity, and carefree sex and drug use – questions pile up. What did the locals make of all this? What were the experiences like for the children involved? Was there anyone policing any of this? What was it like within those homes and did everyone have a good experience? All of these questions are addressed.
While the interview subjects don’t have their names on screen until the end credits (in a great then-and-now reveal), all of the speakers are lucid, colorful, and open about their recollections. The four music montages carefully reflect a theme: those who have passed, the local community outside the camp, the family dynamic inside Taylor Camp, and the sad aftermath. A standout portion is a re-creation of the amazing workout routine performed by a camp member who goes by “Bobo” (and is occasionally interviewed while nude). We see her morning preparation, hear the items both practical and quirky she’d take with her, and marvel at the length and challenge of the journey she’d undergo. It’s a transfixing sequence.
The technical credits are superb, as Stone neatly compartmentalizes the talking points, skillfully blends engaging talking head interviews with footage and photos, and adds appropriate uses of period music. Possibly the most outstanding achievement of The Edge of Paradise is that it makes Taylor Camp such a vivid, multi-faceted place. Whether you’re down with the Flower Power mentality or view hippies with a cautious curiosity, the faces and homes within Taylor Camp will burn into your memory. My parents were not a part of the counter-cultural movement and I was very much a 1980s kid, but the concluding scenes of The Edge of Paradise, with its painful scenes of what is gone forever and how those who were there have moved on, carry a tremendous impact.
Although set during the latter part of the 20th century, it all resonates clearly with life in America today. As the opening montage recalls turmoil at Berkeley University, riots, police brutality, a counter-cultural uprising, and a highly controversial U.S. President, none of it seems at all dated. In fact, The Edge of Paradise makes the clear observation that we’ve come full circle. The late-in-the-documentary observation that Taylor Camp is now a state of mind to escape to (rather than a physical place) makes me consider just what the equivalent would be for me.
Anyone can relate to the bittersweet words of a former resident, who recalls that her father told her the camp is “still there,” even when it’s not. When a location and community of friends changes our lives for the better, memories are the bridge to the places that are long gone but ever-present in the heart and soul. The Edge of Paradise is about such a place and it is a complex look at a truly unique hale that many still recall as their home.
The Edge of Paradise plays at 7:30pm, Saturday, April 6, for ONE NIGHT ONLY, at the Castle Theater. A Celebration of Life and Tribute to the late Bob Stone is at 5:30-7pm in the Youkouchi Courtyard.