Michael Murphy, founder of Esalen Institute and best-selling author penned a novel in 1972 titled Golf in the Kingdom. Now, Golf in the Kingdom is set to become a blockbuster movie sensation and has already hit theaters across the United States. Check out Michael Murphy in dialogue with Dr. Marc Gafni as they discuss World Spirituality and what it means to be a dual citizen in the 21st century.
|Michael Murphy is the co-founder and chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for extraordinary human capacities. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide.
Dr. Marc Gafni holds his doctorate from Oxford University and has direct lineage in Kabbalah. He is a Rabbi, spiritual artist, teacher, and a leading visionary in the emerging World Spirituality movement. He is a co-founder of iEvolve: The Center for World Spirituality, a scholar at the Integral Institute, and the director of the Integral Spiritual Experience, as well as a lecturer at John F. Kennedy University. The author of seven books, including the national bestseller Soul Prints and Mystery of Love, Gafni’s teaching is marked by a deep transmission of open heart, love and leading edge provocative wisdom. Gafni is considered by many to be a visionary voice in the founding of a new World Spirituality and one of the great mind/heart teachers of the generation.
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A Mystical Tale, From Tee to Green
by Charles McGrath | Originally posted in the NY Times.
For many golfers Michael Murphy’s 1972 novel, “Golf in the Kingdom,” is practically a sacred text. It’s about a young man, modeled on Mr. Murphy himself, who on his way to an ashram in India stops off in Scotland, where his life is transformed by an encounter with a golf pro and mystic named Shivas Irons, who knows as much about Pythagoras and the Hindu scriptures as he does about hitting a high fade. Several filmmakers have felt similarly transported by reading the book, and “Golf in the Kingdom” has been optioned or in development since before it was even published. Gus Van Sant was interested for a while. Sean Connery was approached about playing Shivas. Clint Eastwood fell in love with the book and clung to the rights for a decade or so before giving up.
At last, though, “Golf in the Kingdom” is coming to the screen. It opens in New York on Friday in a version written and directed by Susan Streitfeld, who has never played golf in her life, and produced by Mindy Affrime, an independent producer who says that “Hollywood is a men’s club for guys who don’t need to work.” She made the movie not on a shoestring but on the discarded baling twine you use when you can’t afford a shoestring. The cast, which includes Mason Gamble as Murphy, David O’Hara as Shivas, and Malcolm McDowell as a crusty Scottish doctor who thinks the electric golf cart spells the end of civilization, worked for $100 a day.
For reasons of economy, the film was shot at Bandon Dunes, a golf resort in Oregon that looks more Scottish than much of Scotland, and Mike Keiser, owner of the resort, wound up feeding and housing the cast and crew free during the 20 days of shooting.
“It’s hard to escape Mindy,” he said last week. “Using ‘Golf in the Kingdom,’ she became an expert mooch. I think Michael approved, and I’m sure the Shivas character would have approved too.”
Mr. Murphy, now 80, is better known as a founder of the Esalen Institute, home of the human potential movement and scene of countless nude hot tub encounters. He gave up golf a few years ago when his brother began to outdrive him, but took a keen interest in the film and helped write the script. He focused particularly on a long meditation sequence at the end and also suggested a scene, not in the novel, in which a golfer and a barmaid turn each other on by quoting the Robert Burns poem “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady” to each other.
“I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” he said of the movie. “I had got to calling ‘Golf in the Kingdom’ the world’s longest virtual movie, coming soon to a mind near you.”
One reason the film took so long to get made is that the book is close to unfilmable. It’s less a novel than a philosophical parable, in which the Murphy character plays an eye-opening round with Shivas; attends a dinner party, probably based on Plato’s “Symposium,” where the guests takes turns expounding on the meaning of golf; and has a nighttime mystical encounter with Shivas, and while swinging in the dark discovers the importance of his “inner body.”
It ends with a little coda of speculations about matters like the whiteness of the ball, the holeness of the hole and the importance of becoming one sense-organ. There is hardly any plot, and no love interest. By the end the Murphy character has become so spiritual that he has sworn off sex entirely. The book’s popularity among golfers probably has less to do with novelistic elements than with its tantalizing suggestion that there is already a perfect golf swing inside you, if you can just close your eyes and find it.
Mr. Murphy guessed that the absence of a traditional narrative is what thwarted so many filmmakers, and said he knew of some 15 different screenplays that had tried to impose more of a story on his book. In one version the Murphy character is a used-car salesman in the Bronx who falls in love with Shivas’s daughter and winds up a remittance man in Tahiti.
Ms. Affrime, who grew up playing golf, was introduced to the book by Mr. Van Sant and remained eager to film it even when he bowed out. After finally acquiring the rights, which she did by wheedling Warner Brothers, now the owner, she interviewed a number of male directors.
“There were all these guys who said they wanted to make ‘Golf in the Kingdom,’ ” she recalled. “They all had their opinions on what it should be, and they all had their own relationship to golf. It became their story, not Michael’s.”
Ms. Streitfeld, whose film “Female Perversions” Ms. Affrime had produced in 1996, was Mr. Murphy’s idea, and what she brought to the project was essentially a blank slate. She comes from “an extremely tall, nonathletic family,” she said last week (her uncle is Paul Volcker, the 6-foot-7 former chairman of the Federal Reserve), and saw the book less as a golf story than as a “layering of ancient religions and philosophies and ideas.”
Talking about “Golf in the Kingdom,” Ms. Streitfeld sounded like someone who had spent a great deal of quality time with Shivas Irons. She referred to the book not as a novel but as “the material,” and said she had spent years “standing around and listening to it.”
“It was very elusive and mysterious,” she added. “There’s so little that’s holding you, so little you can grab onto.”
Normally a very methodical director, she more or less improvised “Golf in the Kingdom.” She and the cinematographer, Arturo D. Smith, went to Bandon Dunes with a script but no story board or shot list, and some of the most striking scenes are in parts of the Bandon landscape that don’t look Scottish at all.
“It was a process of all the senses being in relationship to the essence of the material,” she said, and added, “The crew basically wanted to kill us.”
The finished version is nonlinear, jumping forward and flashing back in time. This was not her original intention, Ms. Streitfeld said, but the movie resisted being edited into a traditional form.
“The sense the film had of itself was very, very strong,” she said with Shivas-like wonder, and went on: “The whole thing really was instinctual. I would hope I never do that again.”
Mr. Murphy said that at a certain point during the filming he was “advised to retire to the perimeter of the set,” but he nevertheless highly approves of the movie.
“I’ve seen it five or six times, and it depends on my mood what my reaction is,” he said. “The second time I had had a couple of glasses of wine and I thought it was hilarious. I said, ‘What have you done?,’ and they said, ‘No, it’s the same movie.’ ”
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