Charlie Manson painting by Gary Roberts

Charles Manson Superstar

Posted by Al Barger on December 04, 2004 11:11 PM (See all posts by Al Barger)

This 1989 documentary on Charles Manson fascinated me at least as much for the filmmaker as for Charlie.

The core appeal comes from the original jailhouse interviews with Manson circa 1988 at San Quentin. This gives about the biggest hunk of just Charlie Manson talking of anything I've ever seen, which makes it pretty worth seeing just on that angle.

Charlie had a sympathetic audience to spin out his somewhat advanced BS jailhouse philosophies. They tend to tail off into strings of non-sequiters, but you can see how there would be just enough cohesion and personal magnetism to really sell to just the right thrown away young idiot girls, thus the Family.

The official version, as it were, of the Manson story from the Helter Skelter movie and book comes from the viewpoint of the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi. Seeming to fit all the known facts pretty well as best I can tell, I tend to consider it somewhere close to the reality.

According to this version, Manson was basically a bored and sociopathic career criminal who amused himself and purposely turned himself into a media celebrity by playing out this horribly nihilistic game of "let's pretend." Let's pretend that the Beatles are sending me secret messages telling me to start a race war and take over the world. Hey, what else did this loser have to do, anyway?

The filmmaker Nikolas Schreck, however, takes Manson much more seriously. Even just the 800-1000 words of his liner notes with the DVD are almost worth the price of a rental.

For those who have eyes to see, here is an authentic neo-Gnostic magical philosophy born in the darkest regions of human experience - a religious approach to self-transformation and illumination that puts into practice the Nietzchean transvaluation of all values.

The director also apparently believes there to be literal magic associated with this film, and carries on at some length.

Meanwhile, he's indulging in all sorts of alternative theories about the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, including one that Manson was some kind of "psychedelic Lee Harvey Oswald" set up by the federal government to discredit the hippies. However, says Schreck, "I no longer believe that Manson was the innocent martyr he presented himself to be."

In short, this Schreck guy's probably more truly nuts than Charlie, whom I've always understood to actually be in pretty solid touch with reality.  He's evil, not crazy.  It definitely makes the show worth watching, and a good more-or-less pro-Charlie companion piece to the better known Helter Skelter film.

Charles Manson on the cover of the Rolling Stone - Made it ma, top of the world!


Charles Manson mug shot


Young Charles Manson mugshot, 1956


Chuck Manson image


Charles Manson, dirty hippie


Young Charles Manson


Charlie Manson


Charles Manson playing guitar



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