Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #86: The Manson Family

Jim Van Bebber started making The Manson Family in 1988.  In 2004 it finally came out in America.  It is, by and far, a labor of love, and that shows in every minute of this dark, dark film.  You see the title and you think you know what you are about to see.  What you get, however, defies the senses.

Shot as if it were a film and a documentary, it follows the Manson Family up through the infamous murders, and it looks at a group of contemporary Mansonites who are trying to stir the pot anew.  It is a surreal and often disturbing film, and its narrative structure makes it play like an arthouse terror ride into the depths of Hell.  It is also a fictional movie based around real events but shot to look as if it is using actual footage from the real-life participants.  In short, it’s a movie that seriously fucks with you and your expectations.

Bebber had a lot of issues completing this movie, as is evident by the film’s timeline.  Money was a constant source of problems, and at least one actor was fairly nervous while shooting because he was unsure of just what he had gotten himself into.  And what had he stumbled into?  A movie where the depiction of sex and drugs weren’t always just motion picture simulations.  A movie where the blood flowed freely and nudity was commonplace.  It is not for the weak of heart or easily offended, either, as we all know what happened in that murder spree that took Sharon Tate and her unborn child (and a host of others).  For some, a movie that revolves around that particular crime can be nothing but disrespectful and there is no amount of reassuring that can sway that feeling.  That said, those people are wrong.

Bebber, despite all the problems, created a something very close to a masterpiece that is more a nightmare than a film at times.  Upon finishing it you will feel like you just did a ton of acid and got trapped in an abandoned amusement park.  It’s not pleasant, and it’s not meant to be.  It is, however, meant to make people talk, and in that it succeeded quite well. 

Roger Ebert, the man who made me want to be a film critic, gave it one of the most even-handed reviews I have ever read for it; he understood quite well what Bebber had accomplished.  Ebert, who called the film “an act of transgression so extreme and uncompromised, and yet so amateurish and sloppy, that it exists in a category of one film -- this film,” understood that the director had done something beyond the norm.  At the conclusion of his review he stated that the film was “remarkable,” successful and “uncompromising,” and then wrote, “That doesn’t mean I think you should see it.”  That sums up The Manson Family experience quite well.

Watch it if you think you can handle it.  Avoid it if you have any doubt.  If you do watch it, understand that you’ve never seen anything like it prior and nor will you ever see anything like it again.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this film to review.  If you click on a link, I may earn a commission.  If you click on a link, leave something witchy.

1 comment:

  1. This film really got under my skin. Great write-up on it. I will never watch it again.