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Manson Girl (2009)
5th Aug 10
Ponder over which one of the Manson chicks would be the best lay while putting their crimes in perspective with that little skirmish in Vietnam. Conclude Nixon was more of a bastard than Manson.
Paroled again this year until 2013 for her part in the infamous murders at the LaBianca residence in 1969, Leslie Van Houten was the youngest of Charles Manson’s acolytes and a memorably disruptive presence at various associated trials during the 1970s. Manson Girl (a wise new title for a movie hitherto called Leslie My Name is Evil) is a Toronto-made dark satire that is interested less in the murders themselves (which are almost entirely off-camera) than it is in assessing the reaction to them in 1960‘s America.
Kristen Hagen delivers a compelling, bravely sympathetic performance of Leslie - or Lou Lou, as she was renamed by the Manson clan. She’s a normal high school cheerleader in a suburb of Los Angeles who becomes disillusioned with life after her parents’ divorce and the televised de-braining of JFK. Watching the Vietnam War unfold in her front room seals the deal. Hanging out with the hippie set, she meets Charlie Manson in an appropriately distracting pose astride a crucifix and learns of the following he has gained among those looking for “a deeper sense of purpose”. This self-styled rock star, sex-God and saviour becomes a handy national scapegoat to take everyone’s minds away from much bigger bodycounts elsewhere.
Jim Van Bebber’s bruising The Manson Family is likely to remain the definitive visceral interpretation of the murders themselves, but there was always room for at least one more movie about the era in which The Family was allowed to develop. This is a slicker, far less raw movie than Van Bebber’s, with striking use of primary colours and an impressive sense of style for a small budget feature. It’s also a deliberately arch, often amusing portrait of 1960’s America, in which the alternative to hanging out with Charlie looks to be spending time with Commie-fearing, ‘Nam-supporting, sitcom-square Christians. One of the movie’s best montages is an idyllic church rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers” set to massacre footage.
“Don’t say anything that’ll make anyone squirm or blush”, notes a court judge at a key moment in the film’s trial-dominated second half, neatly encapsulating the conservative attitudes that still thrived in the “free-love” era. Throughout, the movie resembles John Waters (circa 1990) in its exploration of the repression and hypocrisies of the Christian set, hypocrisies that the demonisation of Manson only served to highlight. Courtroom debates segue into ponderings over whether “make love” is a suitable alternative to “sticking it in balls deep” while jurors discuss which Manson girl would be the best lay (a key member of the jury also has a sexy dream fantasy about bloody, rough sex with a Manson chick).
With the unfolding trial sharing front page space with Bigfoot sightings and Nixon’s justification for brutality perpetrated in the jungles dominating the TV airwaves, the movie conveys a potent dichotomy. It’s a cool, involving little flick with a terrific final image and fine use of music by The Mamas and the Papas, the Black Angels and Bob Marley’s “A Child of a few hours is burning to death”. Take a well-earned break from yanking out the fingernails of local Christians and give it a rent.