Critics' Pick

Manson (R)

Documentary 83 December 31st, 1969
By Sherrie Li
Once dominating the media with his word-salad ravings, Charles Manson has these days been relegated to quietly rotting in jail without press access—almost anonymous to the Honey Boo Boo generation. But in the '60s and '70s, Manson and his "family" of brainwashed, doped-up outcasts were the reality show everyone loathed to watch. Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick's 1973 Oscar-nominated documentary Manson has been resurrected after being banned by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas McBride to preserve Squeaky Fromme's right to a fair trial after her attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. And it's clear how the film could have been biased the jury against her. Narrated in a voice resembling Law and Order's opening "these are their stories" guy, and scored with original hippie music by two former Manson followers, Manson paints an eerie, deceptively peaceful, and psychopathic portrait of these Spahn Ranch tenants--most of it told by them. Hendrickson and Merrick gained surprisingly intimate access to Manson and his family, including guerrilla footage of ranch life. It's like watching animals in their natural habitat: bathing together in a waterfall, performing a universal mating song, and rubbing against each other in a ritualistic dance. Any mentions of the Tate-LaBianca murders are brief or in the context of determining motivation. "We are what you made us," they explain. For modern audience members, it raises the question: What are we making of the teenage misfits today? Manson is a terrifying reminder that things may appear different on the surface, but it's still very much the same: Dysfunction perpetuates dysfunction, hardcore drugs are the gateway to bad decisions, and our vulnerable youth are easily perverted.
Robert Hendrickson, Laurence Merrick Joan Huntington, Laurence Merrick