Bob Grosvenor’s “Acapulco Gold” (1973) is a golden-hued, nostalgic trip down memory lane

By on April 20, 2019

First-time filmmaker Bob Grosvenor’s documentary Acapulco Gold might seem pretty tame these days, but the film’s release caused quite a sensation when it was first screened across the country in 1973.

Back in the ’80s, this golden-hued, soft-focused nostalgic trip down memory lane is exactly the kind of film you might have seen excerpted on “Night Flight” — and it’s also an excellent title for you to check out on 4/20, which is why we’re posting it today — and that’s exactly why we’re offering it up for a token toke to our subscribers in our Drugs & the Counterculture section on Night Flight Plus.

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In the early ’70s, possessing marijuana — let alone smoking it, medicinally, recreationally or otherwise — was a helluva lot less legal than it is now.

The idea that California, Colorado, Washington and other U.S. states might eventually legalize pot wasn’t much more than a stoner’s pipe dream.

Audience members were actually a little concerned that the people seen here could arrested for doing what you see them doing: harvesting, cultivating and smuggling pot from Mexico into the United States.

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Director/Producer Bob Grosvenor was a lobbyist for marijuana legalization who was busted in California for growing five thousand marijuana plants.

At the time, this was the biggest bust for domestic pot cultivation in our country’s history.

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While he was out on bail and awaiting trial, Grosvenor decided to recruit cameraman Steve Rosen to document the hard work that goes into the illegal harvesting of marijuana, which is one reason why it feels we’re watching a home movie.

He shows us a group of bikers, hippies and dropouts who harvest crops of “ditch weed” in Lawrence, Kansas (they were later interviewed by authors Roger Martin, Susan Brosseau, and David Ohle for their book Cows Are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers).

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Grosvenor and Rosen traveled around all around America, interviewing growers (called “experts”), and testing “wild” marijuana grown in the bluegrass fields of Kentucky and the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.

They also traveled down to Mexico, where they sought out a “superweed” cultivated in the hills outside of Acapulco (just $30 for a kilo!).

Acapulco Gold was, of course, the name given to the high-quality marijuana strain from the Acapulco region of Mexico (technically, it’s the region’s cannabis flower which bears the name).

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Along the way, the story detours into a weird little Robert Crumb-esque animated cartoon sequence by Arnie Wong, before we’re shown how the golden weed from Acapulco makes its way into California.

This includes swimming with 220 lb. bags of pot past border guards to the shores of Imperial Beach in San Diego County.

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Grosvenor  was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to jail, which slowed the post-production a bit.

Rosen edited the film, while Grosvenor worked on pulling together the soundtrack music, including tracks by Leo Kottke, Head, Hands & Feet, Carlos Santana, Billy Baker, the Flying Burrito Brothers, William McCoy, and Tonto’s Expanding Headband.

Our personal favorite, though was the 1967 minor hit “That Acapulco Gold” — promising us that “the streets are lined with bricks of that Acapulco Gold” – by psychedelic rock band Rainy Daze.

During Grosvenor’s two-year probation period, he tried to find distribution for Acapulco Gold, but major movie distributors gave a hard pass on having anything to do with the film.

Grosvenor ended up renting out independently-owned theaters and showing the movie himself, although several theaters flat out refused to let it be screened.

He also struggled to find ways to advertise and promote the film, since radio ads were nixed by most AM and FM station management, and newspapers refused to print ads for the film.

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Acapulco Gold ended up finding its intended audience across the country, often on college campuses.

Read more about Acapulco Gold below.

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Back in the 1970s, you’d hear the term “Acapulco Gold” quite a bit, but just like the beach resort getaway itself — once populated with Hollywood jet-setters getting out of town for awhile — it seems to have fallen out of favor.

At one point, in fact, Acapulco — located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico — was the second most popular spring break destination in Mexico behind Cancún.

MTV, in fact, used to film their iconic five-episode “Spring Break” series there, where you could watch rock bands performing for scantily clad dancers grinding on each other beside the pool or at the beach.

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Unfortunately, the rise in drug cartel gang violence in Acapulco over the past several decades has driven all but the bravest foreign tourists away.

We suspect there are still some rowdy Spring Breakers who go there anyway, precisely because Acapulco is an entrance point for cocaine coming up from Columbia, Bolivia and Peru.

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There was also a forgotten 1976 crime thriller movie called Acapulco Gold — the film posters were tag-lined: “High times, fast action” — directed by Burt Brinckerhoff.

The film starred former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner as a regular dude who finds himself involved in a dangerous drug-smuggling scheme (which for some unknown reason takes place in Hawaii, not Mexico).

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Unfortunately, there’s a lot of online confusion because sometimes the plot description for Grosvenor’s Acapulco Gold lists this 1976 crime thriller’s plot instead.

Below, you’ll see the Acapulco Gold movie poster promoting the documentary for the Australian re-release of the film in 1980.

Watch Acapulco Gold on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.