The Manson Family – 2 Disc Special Edition DVD
A film by Jim VanBebber
I took an interest in Jim VanBebber a long while back because of the work he had done with Skinny Puppy. I’d soon learn that he wasn’t just a guy who made one of their videos, but he was an underground film maker. The problem was, at the time, the only way you could see any of his stuff was from bootleg tapes or knowing someone who had one. The first thing I saw of his was My Sweet Satan, thanks to Tim Gore passing his tape of the movie onto me about 10 years ago. That was all I got to see of Jim’s work until the eventual DVD release of Deadbeat at Dawn.
In 1996, Download (a post-Skinny Puppy project by Cevin Key and the late Dwayne Goettel) released a limited edition CD called Charlie’s Family. This CD was to be the soundtrack for a film of the same name that Jim VanBebber was making. I loved the CD and was really looking forward to the movie. A year passed and nothing, no movie, then another year, and another. Eventually I had given up hope that it would ever come out and had nearly forgotten about it. I relegated it to the ill-fated Chunkblower, in that it too was something that sadly would never see the light of day.
Finally last year, after being renamed The Manson Family, the movie was finally finished and released. Being an underground film, it has a very limited life in any theatre and I never got a chance to see it there, so I had to wait for the DVD. After it got released overseas, I thought for sure it would be any day now that it would get released in the states and after awhile it finally did.
There has been plenty of movies about Charles Manson and The Manson Family, but how this one differs most is that the focus isn’t solely on Charlie, the movie spends its time telling the stories of the actual family members. The film also has a side story going on about modern-day industrial type kids who were heavily influenced by Manson and how nearly 30 years later, Manson’s influence still remains. The film tells the tale of an aging TV newsman (think Geraldo Rivera as an example) who has put together a documentary on The Manson Family. The reporter is viewing the tape that is going to air that evening while discussing with a co-worker things he learned while putting the thing together.
The “documentary” he put together is the meat and potatoes of this film. It features modern-day interviews with the various core family members telling their version of what happened and their stories are flashbacks of old footage of said events. The look of the film makes it appear that it really was shot back in the late 1960s and looks very realistic for the time. You get to see how various members came to meet Charlie and how they joined. It covers all the stuff the family was infamous for; the sex, the creepy crawls, the drugs, the music, and the murders.
The film is particularly violent, however the violence in there isn’t for shock value, it is a realistic portrayal of what actually happened back then. It didn’t need to be exaggerated, as what really happened really was that gruesome. On the other side, to truly show just how fucked up these people were in what they did, it had to be as gory as it is. These people truly were sick and film does its job well of showing you just how awful the events that transpired were and doesn’t glamorize it.
The method of story telling in this film I thought was really well done, and I really enjoyed the side-story happening in modern day as it shows that the more things change, the more they really stay the same. There as just as many fucked up people and things happening now as there was then. Having the family as a whole be the focus of the film, and not just Manson was another plus as the world really didn’t need another story just about Manson.
The second disc of this set features a few hours worth of making-of documentaries, the main one was as fascinating as the movie itself. It went into great detail the years and sacrifices that VanBebber went through to see this movie get made. It was 10 years of work and during that time he lost his studio, his money, distribution deals, and even his actors! In the end, no one on the project ever thought it was going to ever get finished but obviously there was a light at the end of that long, dark, tunnel as otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this right now. It was really neat to see how the movie came together, and evolved into what the finished product became. It could very well be the movie that took the longest to finish in history, I don’t know. If not, it certainly ranks right up near the top.
It goes without saying that hardcore Skinny Puppy fans are going to check this out simply because of who made it. If you can handle the gore and have any remote interest in what happened all those years ago, I’d say this is easily the film to watch. It really was a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing movie. At the very least, its worth checking out just on the basis of what Jim VanBebber sacrificed to make it, which more than justifies the price tag.
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