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Old 10-25-2004, 12:07 AM   #1
The Chaostar
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Ebert gives * * * to Van Bebber's MANSON FAMILY

The Manson Family * * *
Roger Ebert / October 22, 2004

Dinsdale Releasing presents a film written and directed by Jim Van Bebber. Running time: 95 minutes. No MPAA rating but intended for adults (for extreme violence).

"The Manson Family" has scenes so foul and heartless they can hardly be believed. Killers stab victims again and again and again, relentlessly, with glee. A throat is cut on camera. A dog is sacrificed. Victims plead piteously for their lives. The action is recorded in low-tech film and video footage, some of it scratched and faded to look archival. There are passages as amateurish as a home movie. Actors snarl at the camera as if they're doing screen tests for snuff films. Some images (like an opening shot of blood dripping onto white flowers) are groaningly ham-handed. Although Charles Manson is extolled in the film by members of his "family" as a messiah and seer, he says nothing of value, and has the charisma of a wino after a night in a dumpster.

All of this will lead you to conclude that "The Manson Family" is a wretched film, but I am not sure I would agree with you. It filled me with disgust and dismay, but I believe it was intended to, and in that sense was a success. It has an undeniable power and effect, but be sure you understand what you are getting yourself into. This is not a "horror" film or an "underground" film, but an act of transgression so extreme and uncompromised, and yet so amateurish and sloppy, that it exists in a category of one film -- this film.

I'm tempted to say you should see it just because you will never see a film like this again, but then I wonder: What need is there to see a film like this at all? Its insight into the Manson Family is that they were usually drugged, had absorbed the half-assed hippie philosophy of the time and fell into the hands of a persuasive, gravely damaged man who persuaded them to gladly murder for him. I do accept that those who did the actual killing were acting under the influence of Manson. What I cannot find in this film is the slightest clue as to how Manson obtained or exercised such power. He seems like the kind of deranged and smelly lunatic any reasonable person would get away from quickly and permanently. That such figures as Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys even briefly gave him friendship and shelter makes a persuasive argument against drug abuse.

"The Manson Family" has been around in several unfinished forms for many years. Its director, Jim Van Bebber, began shooting it in 1988, ran out of funds on various occasions, showed rough cuts at underground venues and finally found completion money to make this theatrical version. If there is not perfect continuity because the actors grew older during the shooting, you'll never notice it, because the filming technique uses such fragmentation, jagged editing and chronological anarchy that we're rarely sure anyway what shot belongs before or after another shot.

What we absorb from the experience, as if wringing it free from the miasma of its making, is that Manson gathered followers with the lure of drugs and sex orgies, that they found an old and confused man and turned his farm into a commune. Charlie was addled by dreams that he would become a rock and roll God, and found portents, patterns and messages in rock songs and, for all I know, in his tea leaves. In a way that is far from clear, his disappointment at his lack of progress led to Helter-Skelter, an operation during which innocent people, including the pregnant Sharon Tate, were murdered. His theory was that the Black Panthers would be framed, and a race war would result in -- what? Charlie taking over? This makes no sense, but did you expect it to?

What Van Bebber does accomplish is to make a film true to its subject. It doesn't bring reason, understanding, analysis or empathy to Manson; it wants only to evoke him. It is not pro-Manson, simply convinced of the power he had over those people at that time. In a paradoxical way, it exhibits sympathy for his victims by showing their deaths in such horrifying detail. In its technical roughness, its raw blatant crudeness, it finds a style suitable to the material; to the degree that it was more smooth and technically accomplished, to that degree it would distance itself from its subject and purpose.

We come to the question of a star rating. Convention requires me to assign stars to every film. Do I give "The Manson Family" four stars because it does what it does so successfully and uncompromisingly, or do I give it zero stars, for the same reason? I will settle on three, because it is remarkable enough I do not want to dismiss it. That doesn't mean I think you should see it.

-----------------------------------------------------------


Didn't expect that. I mean, the guy hated films like I Spit On Your Grave and I suppose he'd hate DEADBEAT AT DAWN too. That's an interesting surprise.
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Old 10-25-2004, 12:12 AM   #2
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It filled me with disgust and dismay, but I believe it was intended to, and in that sense was a success.
I Spit on Your Grave was also intended to disgust, but he calls that one of the worst films ever made. I'm just... stupified.
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Old 10-25-2004, 12:14 AM   #3
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I'm still eagerly awaiting a Region 1 or Region 0 release of this so I can finally see it. I know Blue Underground is or was working on it.
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Old 10-25-2004, 12:17 AM   #4
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Ebert is weird:

"Do I give "The Manson Family" four stars because it does what it does so successfully and uncompromisingly, or do I give it zero stars, for the same reason?"

You give it four stars, poopie head!
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Old 10-25-2004, 12:39 AM   #5
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I love Roger Ebert.
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Old 10-25-2004, 01:02 AM   #6
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He can be cool pi but he also can be a real asshole. I mean, his reviews for THE TENANT or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (both have a one star rating) are downright idiotic. Some times I do love the guy, some times though he really gets to my nerves.
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Old 10-25-2004, 01:25 AM   #7
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Yeah, I know. Blue Velvet also got 1 star while Blade 2 got 3 1/2 ... But what I love about him is that you at least always know where he's coming from if you read his review. You may not agree with him, but you can understand his point of view - and thereby assess for yourself if you'll like the film or not. Or that's what I feel anyway ... I just fell in love with him when he gave The Cell 4 stars
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Old 10-25-2004, 02:39 AM   #8
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His review for The Howling is one of the stupidest and most pathetic ones I've ever read.
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Old 10-25-2004, 04:18 AM   #9
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i've never understood the popularity of this guy. his opinions are usually opposite of mine. i can't believe there are people out there that would watch a movie or not based on his opinion.
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Old 10-25-2004, 05:00 AM   #10
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For the second time today I get to write that I enjoy the guy. He's voicing an opinion, sometimes I agree, sometimes not. He's entertaining though. I can't see any reason to compare a star score given in the70's against something given today. Views change, and hell, it's just a star system. I'm sure they're not given on a continuum.
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Old 10-25-2004, 05:38 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Chaostar
He can be cool pi but he also can be a real asshole. I mean, his reviews for THE TENANT or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (both have a one star rating) are downright idiotic. Some times I do love the guy, some times though he really gets to my nerves.
I think a lot of his reviews are based on whatever mood he was in when watching the film/writing the review. Either that or he's just schitzo as the list what he likes or doesn't like doesn't make much sense a lot of the time.
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Old 10-25-2004, 06:15 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by puddytay
Blue Velvet 1 star sounds correct to me.
His and Siskel's review of BV was on the SE, and Ebert was really upset at what he perceived as exploitation of I. Rossellini. I believe his last line was something to the effect of, "If he wants to play me like a piano, he better have some music worth listening to."
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Old 10-25-2004, 09:58 AM   #13
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I agree with The Howling review - I don't really understand what he was trying to convey with it ... however, I also do agree with his opinion of the film. I've always thought The Howling was overrated.
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Old 10-26-2004, 12:53 PM   #14
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Ebert supports a lot of films that many critics would dismiss instantly. Don't forget about his good reviews of the Evil Dead series.

He doesn't come across to me as a 'film snob' like many reviewers do. He freely admits his weakness for silly movies like Anaconda in his reviews.

Let's face it, the average horror film is pretty terrible, especially those made today.
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Old 10-26-2004, 02:36 PM   #15
The Chaostar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by puddytay
Blue Velvet 1 star sounds correct to me.
No wonder. Uncle Sam is, according to you, the best movie ever.
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