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The Manson Family(2003)
Young hippie runaways form a cult known as the Family. Their leader is Charles Manson, a madman convinced that a race war will break out in America. Endless drugs and Manson's delusions drive the Family to commit one of the most notorious crimes of the twentieth century.
For more about The Manson Family and the The Manson Family Blu-ray release, see the The Manson Family Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 28, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Jim Van Bebber
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The Manson Family Blu-ray Review
Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 28, 2013
If 1967 gave us The Summer of Love (courtesy of lots of hippies and even more drugs), and 1968 gave us The Summer of Sadness (due to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy), 1969 gave us The Summer of Terror, stemming largely from the exploits of Charles Manson and his so-called family. Ironically, Manson himself pointed to the King assassination as proof of what Manson insisted was an impending race war, which Manson termed Helter Skelter. The pure evil of the Manson murders caught a still rather innocent American public completely by surprise, something that might seem to be odd, considering the previous year's brush with anarchy due not just to the assassinations but the roiling sociopolitical environment which famously saw huge riots break out in several places, including in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. But there was something so primal about these murders—especially the murder of a very pregnant Sharon Tate—that both fascinated and repelled the public, especially since the perpetrators weren't immediately captured. When more murders followed in the wake of the first attack, the country was riveted—and very, very fearful. Richard Nixon had won the presidency largely on a "law and order" ticket, and the yet to be named Nixonian Silent Majority began making lots of noise that the criminals had to be found as quickly as possible. The police actually kind of backed into finding the killers, but once the Manson Family was in custody, the public was both fascinated and repelled again by this motley crew that included some very well brought folks along with the often incarcerated Manson. Manson and his followers have continued to fascinate (and repel) people in the many decades since the horrific crimes they committed, and as sad as it may be to talk about, Manson has become a hero of sorts for a certain class of people. The Manson Family (here bearing its alternate title Charlie's Family) plays upon that perhaps disturbing fact while at the same time purporting to give a sort of quasi-documentary review of some of the Family's exploits, both murderous and otherwise.
There's a fine line between exploitation and "mere" reportage when it comes to something as sensational and inherently horrific as the Manson murders. Some may demur from filmmaker Jim Van Bebber's assertion that he didn't want his film to be exploitative in any way, shape or form. Even taking Van Bebber at his word, there are still a couple of salient questions some audience members may be prone to ask. If in fact Van Bebber's wish was to create a quasi- documentary, why have the "framing device" of modern day acolytes of Manson's insanity? More to the point, if he wanted to do a quasi-documentary, why not just do a documentary for heaven's sake, especially when there is such copious archival material out there to be mined for such a project?
Van Bebber takes a probably suitably chaotic approach to this material, cutting back and forth between "contemporary" confessionals and recreations of historical events, two elements which are often distinctly at odds with each other (actors portraying Manson Family members will state one thing while the recreations show something completely opposite). Van Bebber's major thesis seems to be that there were (and are) a lot of people complicit in Manson's evil. There is the Family of course, but Van Bebber then expands that initial group to include both "current day" followers of the cult leader as well as an obviously obsessed journalist (who is himself the target of the contemporary Manson followers). There's a very cogent sociological aspect to this, namely, what is it about these horrific acts that continues to fascinate so many people, and it's here that The Manson Family probably makes its most valid—albeit sometimes hard to follow—points.
The film is probably just as haunting from a structural standpoint as it is for anything it portrays. The Manson Family tends not to focus as much on the infamous Tate or LaBianca killings as it does the internecine relationships of the original cult members, relationships which themselves ended in tragedy on at least a couple of occasions. There's no dearth of drug fueled sex and slow proselytization on display here, but there's also a perhaps understandable lack of any clear motivating factor that would make so many followers of Manson willingly partake in such hideously awful acts. However, the pure psychedelic fury that infuses The Manson Family carries it along on an inexorable nightmare journey. It's a bad trip, to be sure, but it's completely unforgettable.
The Manson Family Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Manson Family is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Severin Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.34:1. Viewers coming to this feature without any foreknowledge of what Van Bebber was trying to accomplish may think this transfer is absolutely botched, but that misses the point in terms of both format (16mm and video) and some post- production tweaking Van Bebber employed. Van Bebber is playing with a number of different techniques here, including lots of intentional distressing of the image (which he did manually by scratching the stock with kitty litter, believe it or not), which gives quite a bit of the footage an aged, pretty badly damaged, look. But the bulk of this outing features a nicely naturally filmic appearance and the "undamaged" footage sports decent clarity and precision, given the context of the smaller millimeter format which obviously does not boast brilliant sharpness and which tends to be (expectedly) rather grainy most of the time. The film was shot on a shoestring and so does not have the crystal clear clarity of big budget outings shot either on film or HD video, but that relative softness is endemic to the elements and not a transfer issue.
The Manson Family Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Manson Family's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a riot of hallucinatory effects. Weird, static-filled chatter ping pongs around the side channels while a bizarrely anachronistic assortment of folk music accompanies montages of flower children and blood soaked horror (remember that Manson was a nascent musician himself, a friend of The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson and an would-be Monkee). There is often an intentionally obfuscated aspect to the sound design here, especially in some of the drug fueled sequences. The clearest moments are in the quasi-documentary confessional elements, whether those be the "contemporary" reminiscences or the supposed "archival" footage which also crops up. Fidelity is excellent, and dynamic range is also rather wide.
The Manson Family Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Manson Family Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's hard to give a ringing endorsement to The Manson Family, for it's quite a disturbing experience on a number of levels. I personally don't completely buy Van Bebber's assertion that he had no exploitative motivations whatsoever in getting this project done (which took him years, often against rather considerable odds), but at the same time there's no denying that there is a definite point of view here and that the results are quite chilling. This really is more an examination of the interior workings of the Manson cult rather than an out and out depiction of the horrific murders they committed, and there's some rather cogent points made about the "ripple" effect the Manson murders have had, continuing on (sadly) to our time. This isn't an easy film to watch, but it's one of the most visceral pieces I've experienced lately. If you have the stomach for it, The Manson Family comes Recommended.
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The Manson Family Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Severin Films to Release The Manson Family (Updated) - May 2, 2013
Independent distributors Severin Films have announced that they are planning to release on Blu-ray Jim Van Bebber award-winning indie The Manson Family (2003). The director's new short Gator Green will also be included on the upcoming Blu-ray release. Street date ...
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