OFor the past half century, a villain has been Hollywood. The cruel murders committed by Charles Manson and his followers in the summer of 1969 have filled countless films and documentaries about the glories and debauchery of the 1960s. But its evil influence goes far beyond the screen. Apart from the murder of eight people, Manson and his disciples – the family – were accused of eradicating counterculture, free love, communities, and hippies.
Three new films are making new attempts to reckon with "the symbol of animalism and evil," as Rolling Stone magazine called it. The biggest is Quentin Tarantinos Once upon a time in Hollywood, which will soon be premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The film stars in Los Angeles during the Manson era and plays Leonardo DiCaprio as a fading TV western star and Brad Pitt as his stunt double. Both try to make the leap to the canvas. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, the actress and wife of director Roman Polanski, who was brutally murdered by the family. Manson, a background character in the movie, is played by Damon Herriman.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate, meanwhile, is a dirty fiction with singer Hilary Duff, in which Tate dreams of being persecuted by a man named Charlie and has premonitions for her own murder. Much more rewarding is Charlie Says, directed by Mary Harron, whose credits include American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol. Her film tells the story of three convicted Manson supporters – Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins – who were first sentenced to death but then imprisoned for life.
Charlie Says, who investigates the trio's participation in a rehab project at the California Institution for Women, is the first film to investigate the indoctrination of Manson's female followers. "I wanted to talk about why this happened," says Harron. "How did these healthy, normal young women and men come to do these awful things? This was an era of change. As a young person, you thought that all existing things that we knew would end soon. "As for the family, they were on a collision course with reality and justice:" If you ate acid every day, and you were too. "A megalomaniac said you face serious consequences. "
The events that would give Charles Milles Manson, who died in jail in 2017, his much sought-after fame, are well documented. On August 8, 1969, four family members visited the house of film director Roman Polanski, where they killed the pregnant Tate and three of her friends and an 18-year-old student who visited the property's property manager. At that time Polanski was in London. When the killers left, Tate's blood was used to write "pig" on the front door.
The next day, Manson and six of his followers happened to enter the house of Managing Director Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. The couple was tied up and stabbed repeatedly. A member of the family carved "WAR" on Leno's stomach. Another wrote "Rise" and "Death to Pigs" on the walls and "Healter (sic) Skelter" on the fridge door in blood.
In Charlie Says, Manson is played by former Doctor Who Matt Smith. He calls his character "a master manipulator of young, vulnerable women. I was interested in how this power was used – and contributed to his fall. He was emotionally quite intelligent in his manipulation of people through power and sex. His failure as a musician was the trigger for many of his losses. "
The wildest scene in Charlie Says is the orgy where Smith stops everything to give a speech about the meaning of oral sex. "The hardest part of this scene," Harron recently told New York magazine, "was finding enough extras willing to strip naked."
Harron says her film is partly a study of institutionalized behavior. "Manson had been in nursing since the age of twelve and had a terribly loveless childhood. He was not all-powerful or Jesus, but he had enough drugs and manipulation to get what he wanted. "
And what this semi-skilled, damaged young criminal wanted to achieve – and could – was to reinvent himself as an authority figure for impressive young people. Leslie Van Houten was 19 when she joined the family. In prison, she became a model prisoner who expressed regret for her actions. Director John Waters has campaigned for her probation. Charlie Says makes no such attempt to engage in activism. "I wanted to be as fair and empathetic as possible for everyone involved," says Harron. "But this is not a work of intercession or trying to get someone out of jail."
In 1969, the idea that the coverage of the Manson murders would be characterized by restraint quickly subsided. Manson was arrested four months after the killings and the process was a media spectacle that lasted more than a year. Anonymous press reports said Polanski and Tate were part of a Hollywood scene dealing with orgies and acts of sadism. The terrible cruelty of the killers and their connections to the film and music industry abruptly ended the Aquarian Age of the city. Wealthy residents hired bodyguards and joined forces.
"As the summer of 1969 extended," remembered writer Robert Stone in his 60s memory of Prime Green, "there was a lot of shaving going on in Los Angeles." The good-humored tolerance for the neo-Bohemian scene was lifted. "
In fact, Manson-ology's long obsession with the movie industry began almost as soon as the crime scenes were vacated. After the killings, there was a fast-paced horror movie with brutal titles and actions that mirrored the murders: I drink your blood, The love thriller murders, The last house on the left and Terror on the beach.
The first adaptation of Manson's life was a TV special called Helter Skelter, broadcast in 1976 by CBS and based on a book co-authored by Manson's prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Helter Skelter covered the murders of Tate and LaBianca before he became a court case. Steve Railsback did not portray Manson as a symbol of the hysteria of the late 1960s, but as a violent outsider problem based on petty crime and female trafficking to survive. His portrayal of Manson is the least self-conscious yet disturbing on the screen. Helter Skelter is also the product of an era in which Hollywood treated long-haired men as savages who endangered the fabric of American life.
For research, Railsback heard recordings of Manson and sat every day 45 minutes in a closet. "I do not know if it helped," he says. "But I did not want to hit him because I did not want him to manipulate me, he was a terrible person, people asked me if I ended up in psychiatry because I played him."
Helter Skelter was re-shot in 2004 as a three-hour television movie. This was a Genesis story with Jeremy Davies, who portrayed the murderer as a religious deity, who cited the Beatles, the book of Revelation, and called on his followers to begin a racial war called Helter Skelter. "I was determined to make the murder sequences as brutal as possible and to extend the boundaries of the network," says director John Gray. "I wanted to show how cowardly and brutal the murders were. You have to remember that many people were not even alive when they happened. "
Over the years, several directors have made films about various aspects of Manson's life. The 1997 published Manson family pursued a lo-fi approach. Director Jim Van Bebber says his 400,000-dollar film has been released in part as a lawsuit against the Manson industry. "I was tired of seeing Manson as the idiot of our generation and the constant fascination with Sharon Tate," he says. "If she and the people on Cielo Drive were not murdered, you would not call me."
The appeal of Manson-ology is also due to the fact that the murders were committed in affluent neighborhoods inhabited by LA's creators, especially the filmmakers. Jeffrey Melnick, author of "Creepy Crawling: Charles Manson and the Many Lives of America's Most Famous Family," believes the story repeats so frequently. "Hollywood has a cultural repetition compulsion," says Melnick, who believes the Manson story "is a way of saying that many of those '60s things have gone too far." The murders are a strange one Kind of story that tries to demonstrate that we let the hippies into our house and let the freaks dance with us, but it did not go well. "
One of the most intriguing attempts at a Manson biography began in 1989, when a young writer named Trent Harris created a screenplay called Manson! Completed, which was later renamed Summer of Love. Starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn, Brad Davis, Eric Roberts and Henry Rollins. Everyone said no – it was felt that playing the role could mean a career ending. "I've tried a million different actors," says producer Alan Sacks, who eventually gave up the project.
One of the driving forces behind Charlie Says, in addition to an epilogue to her own memories, was Mary Harrons goal of rethinking the 1960s sex policy for the #MeToo era. The filmmaker was just a teenager when the murders occurred. "I spent some time in LA in the sixties when my father lived there as an actor. I remember hearing about the killings. "
She said she had spent years trying to reach out to Charlie Says, "I think paying attention to Quentin's film has allowed me to put my film into production, in a sense, the social context in which we understand Manson's female followers More important today, I thought, "We have to do this movie now."