The Manson Family

Writer-director-costar Jim Van Bebber began shooting his dense, impressionistic evocation of Manson family values in 1988, and the ever-mutating project became an underground legend before finally surfacing in 2004. Given Charles Manson's transformation into a deracinated pop commodity, the film accomplishes the near-impossible, conjuring up and maintaining...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Writer-director-costar Jim Van Bebber began shooting his dense, impressionistic evocation of Manson family values in 1988, and the ever-mutating project became an underground legend before finally surfacing in 2004. Given Charles Manson's transformation into a deracinated pop commodity, the film accomplishes the near-impossible, conjuring up and maintaining an unremittingly bad vibe that speaks wordless volumes about the Family's evolution from sex-driven hippie commune to the drug-fueled slaughter machine that almost single-handedly put the mark of Cain on the love generation. The film's framing story takes place in 1996, as middle-aged TV personality Jack Wilson (Carl Day), host of "Crime Story," has just finished interviewing surviving Manson followers for a 25th-anniversary program about the Tate-LaBianca murders when he receives a mysterious tape addressed to the "Pig Producer of the Charlie Movie." He pops the tape, edited together from washed-out, scratched and battered scraps of film, into his VCR, and the familiar story of Charlie's (Marcelo Games) life and times plays out. His seduction of hippie chicks; his failed musical ambitions; his fateful meetings with record producer Terry Melcher (Mark Gillespie), whose house at 10050 Cielo Drive was rented by ill-fated starlet Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, and the imminent race war Charlie called "Helter Skelter" unfold in a collage of near-hallucinatory fragments. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Wilson, the senders of the tape — a disenfranchised band of tattooed heroin addicts — are preparing to infuse new blood into Manson's legacy of anarchic violence. If you don't already know the key players and events, Van Bebber's 15-years-in-the-making epic will not give you a firm grounding in the details. And it was never Van Bebber's intent to replace the original HELTER SKELTER (1976), which lays out the facts and figures surrounding Charlie's murder junkies with admirable clarity. Instead, he's out to capture the mood of a generation-long bad trip and succeeds with unnerving accuracy by telling the story within the family circle. Neither Games nor Van Bebber, who plays Bobbie Beausoleil (Kenneth Anger's onetime muse), radiates the charisma attributed to Manson and his pretty-boy acolyte, but several performances stand out through the chopped and scrambled mise-en-scene. They include Maureen Allisse's Susan "Sadie" Atkins, the group's die-hard Manson worshiper; Leslie Orr's hard-faced Patricia Krenwinkle; and Michelle Briggs' indecisive Linda Kasabian, whose testimony helped send her friends to jail.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Writer-director-costar Jim Van Bebber began shooting his dense, impressionistic evocation of Manson family values in 1988, and the ever-mutating project became an underground legend before finally surfacing in 2004. Given Charles Manson's transformation in… (more)

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