Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Manson"(1973)d/Robert Hendrickson,Laurence Merrick

We've got a rare and beautiful gem under the jeweler's loup tonight, a crazy diamond of legendary drug-soaked proportions, and my favorite of all the documentaries concerning the notorious 'Manson Family' and their pint-sized purveyor of prison prophecy, Charlie himself.As the story goes, some young filmmakers working on a documentary focusing on the communal lifestyle of hippies filmed the Manson gang at the Spahn Ranch, Devil's Canyon, and the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, completely unaware of who they were or what they were about, until during the editing process they were shocked to see Manson grinning and aping for news cameras on television, and rushed down to the Hall of Justice to get footage of the unfolding trial as it happened.The film later found itself banned after Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme's attempted assassination of President Ford(with no rounds in the chamber when she pointed the gun, it's pretty safe to say she was just gunning for three hots and a cot at the time, IMHO) to preserve her right to a fair and speedy trial.I scored a Beverly Wilshire Filmworks boot of the movie years ago on Times Square in the early morning hours, which later went for significant amounts of Happy Talk cash on eBay until the director, Hendrickson, dropped a copyright bomb on them, getting listings pulled, and finally suing the company itself.Hendrickson later offered personalized, autographed dvd-r's of Manson for long bux at Exclusive Films' website, but hadn't responded to e-mail queries as recently as two years ago, so that's a shot in the dark(kinda like the whole "Helter Skelter" black/white race war conspiracy angle, but hey, that's just what I think).Co-director/producer Laurence Merrick, who had helmed Dracula and the Boys(1969), The Black Angels(1970), and Guess What Happened to Count Dracula?(1971) prior, was shot in the back and killed in Hollywood by a berserk student-stalker from his acting school in 1977.It only gets better from there...
Pittman, Fromme, and Good:Would, would, and uh...would.Yes.
As Sandra Good shares some philosophy about murder and moving children to the desert, we're introduced to the key players in tonight's entry.Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkle, Van Houten, Watson, Beausoleil.Death Row times six(changed to life imprisonment in 1972).Deputy District Attorney Vince Bugliosi then speaks about how "far out" the murders were to the public-at-large, and the perpetrators, even more so.The narrator(Jess Pearson) then fleshes out the crimes and the victims themselves, as Bugliosi serves up a gore score(169 stab wounds, 7 gunshot wounds).We're shown Tex and the Manson girls and their aliases in various stages of incarceration with the narrator relating human details of their pre-Charlie lives.On August 11th, Manson and several of his cohabitants are raided at the Spahn Ranch and charged with grand theft auto.Enter Nancy Pittman, Lynette Fromme, and Sandra Good, all playing with hunting knives and long rifles, peppering Beatles lyrics with profanity, and rapping about death.Ronnie Howard, who had been cellmates with Susan Atkins, relates Bobby Beausoleil's earlier torture/murder of Gary Hinman on Manson's orders for the cameras.We're then given the throwaway background of Manson himself, born to an unwed teenager who was later locked up for prostitution; foster homes, reformatories, jails, state prisons, federal prisons, and finally San Quentin, cell 13, Death Row.We're then showed how the racial unrest of the 1960's shaped Manson's Beatle-based master plan as he was released from prison in 1967(despite the White Album not being released for another year)and descended upon the hippie movement of Haight-Ashbury, "a venus fly trap among the flowers".Ex-Mansonite Paul Watkins tells how beautiful the hippies were, visibly still a little groggy from all the drugs he'd been doing.
"We used belladonna, hashish, smoked marijuana a lot, mescaline, opium, we didn't mess around with any hard drugs."- Paul Watkins
Watkins reinforces Bugliosi's far-fetched race war angle(it's near to impossible to start a crossword puzzle on L.S.D., just sayin'), before ex-cellmates remember Manson as a "Pay me no mind" kinda guy.Non-jailed Mansonettes praise him for saving them from their boring lives.Brooks Poston tells how Charlie was Christ to him while tripping on acid.We then see Family members skinny-dipping and helping George Spahn around the ranch.Squeaky proudly displays his ceremonial vest, four or five years of continuous stitching by the girls later, their hair woven into the seams from when they shaved their heads(My birthday's still 6 months away, ladies!).Family births are detailed, and the participation of Manson children in drugs and regular orgies.Nancy Jordan describes sex with Manson as cold and sadistic.Watkins relates the group's constant hallucinogenic drug intake."Love Never Dies" is heard as the Family does some creepy erotic interpretive dances for the camera.Pittman tells of all the violence she encountered watching tv as a kid.The way Charlie grooved on playing on one's deepest fears is discussed.Squeaky romanticizes about a hunting knife.Watkins and Poston perform a guitar/flute duet.Clem psychobabbles and freaks out in slow motion as his role in a ranch hand's beheading is detailed.Finally, Manson speaks for himself.He starts out on a victim trip and eventually giggles his way to Sneakyville.Young people of the day are interviewed.Some actually dig him.The Manson girls suggest the Tate/LaBianca murders were copycat killings to spring Beausoleil from jail(much, more likely,don't you think?).Watkins remarks how un-groovy Charlie's death trip was.The camera pulls back from two Manson girls sitting on the corner across from the Hall of Justice as the end credits roll.
You can't spell 'psychotic' without h-o-t.
Interestingly enough, Steve "Clem" Grogan, who the filmmakers seemingly went out of their way to portray as the most animalistic psycho of the bunch after having been deemed borderline retarded in court, having denounced Manson in 1977 and provided authorities with the burial plot of "Shorty" Shea, was released on parole in 1985(the only Mansonite convicted of murder to ever do so!), rumoured to have taken up house painting around the Frisco area(!!"Yeah, Clem, 'blood red' might offend my neighbors...").Sherry Cooper who fled the family is believed to have been i.d.'ed as a Jane Doe body that turned up stabbed to death down an embankment in November of '69.Ronnie Howard was kidnapped from a bus terminal in 1979, beaten, robbed, and died of her injuries twelve days later.Spacy hippie Paul Watkins ended up founding the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce(!), and serving as an unofficial mayor(!!) of Tecopa, a small town in Death Valley, before succumbing to leukemia in 1990, while his "Desert Sun" partner-in-music, Brooks Poston, allegedly enjoys a simple life, still playing music.Following up the Family children(Pooh Bear, Zezozose, Phoenix, Ivan, Angel et al) is another story in and of itself, with legs like Juliette Prowse.As it stands, Manson is a fascinating documentary with lots of freaky moments that you should add to your collection if the chance arises.On the scale, it creepy-crawls to the top with a perfect score of Four big ones.To know you know it, is to know it.
"If you're going to do something, do it well. And leave something witchy."-Charlie


Nigel Maskell said...

I loved this documentary- squeaky was cute but creepy- evetyone girl needs a daddy like charlie! or something.

It may sound a bit of cliche but this documentary got in so deep,so close and for that reason is probably has far more of an impact than most- its easy to like these people, to be charmed by them, to feel sorry for their childlike polyphonic spree hippy naivity. Then we get to go into details as to what they got up to and then it all feels so wrong.

I think I really need to see this one again actually, because despite everything I think this one of those rare examples of a documentary that lends itself to repeat viewing.

A little while back I read that Hendrickson was putting together another manson documentary.

beedubelhue said...

Eh, you know me, Nige.I'm a sucker for mental birds.As for the murders they done, "Everybody has a bad night", as John Waters, long-time pal o' Tex Watson, so eloquently put it!


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