Manson. Few names in history can succinctly convey such a complex blend of terror and anarchy. A lifelong violent manipulator who found the right circumstance to gather lost minds to his influence, and launch a series of horrid crimes that not only claimed the lives of innocent people, but also killed the promising laid-back nature of guileless interaction that the hippies in general and Southern California in particular had represented.
Naturally, like all other bloody chapters of history, the Manson murders became instant grist for filmmakers and audiences alternately repulsed by the events yet driven to learn how and why they happened. And while producers’ motives were often less than journalistic or altruistic, their projects nonetheless captured the truths of the moment in a way that more respectable filmmaking could not have. And on August 9th, 47 years from the night of the LaBianca murders, you can see the rarely-screened film that will capsulize the wake of shock and investigation that followed.
Our feature this date is the Oscar-nominated 1973 documentary MANSON. Director Robert Hendrickson had been hired by Manson himself to document his “Family” at the Spahn Ranch and other gathering spots, providing the director with hours of fortuitous interviews and footage that make up the bulk of this film. While there is little material of Manson himself, you get direct personal and philosophical testimony from almost all the principals who would be later involved in the murders. Interviews with prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and some escapees from the Family augment this material, along with a song score provided by Family survivors Paul Watkins and Brook Poston.
The difficulty of seeing MANSON over the years has been a mixture of both political and internal conflicts. The interviews in the film were so chilling that after Squeaky Fromme’s attempt to assassinate Gerald Ford years after the initial release, the film was ordered withdrawn from circulation, on the concern that widespread viewing of her dangerous behavior on camera would hinder finding an impartial jury pool. Hendrickson also has stated in interviews he had disputes with co-director Laurence Merrick, questioning his motives for his involvement in the documentary. Merrick later died in a random street attack in 1977 that has long fed conspiratorial speculation about reprisal from surviving Family members. A weeklong booking at our friendly rivals The CineFamily in 2013 was the first public exhibition of the film in over three decades.
As such, we’e taking the unusual step of offering two screenings of the movie on the same night, at 7:30 and then at 10:15. Director Robert Hendrickson will be appearing IN PERSON, schedule permitting, to talk about the history and aftermath of this project. Note that your ticket admits you to one performance of the film that evening; we will be clearing out the audience between shows.
The Manson murders are a tragedy that continues to fascinate us. NBC recently spurred controversy with its David Duchovny series “AQUARIUS” and its handling of the Tate/LaBianca murders. This night is your opportunity to hear directly from the figures involved, and see how their legacy was being remembered as the nation was still trying to process the horror.