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Eclectic DVD presents
Charles Manson Superstar (1989)

"I'm like Richard Nixon, except in reverse, you dig?"
- Charles Manson

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 16, 2002

Stars: Charles Manson, Nikolas Schrekm, Zeena LaVey
Director: Nikolas Schrek

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (lots of harsh language, some violent photos in the media tidbits)
Run Time: 00h:51m:34s
Release Date: September 17, 2002
UPC: 820680103996
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- DC+B- D

DVD Review

Charles Manson is a dark stain on the 1960s, a decade that saw some interesting social progressions and philosophies come to the surface. While many embraced the era of "flower power" and all the personal ideologies that went along with it, Manson chose, instead, to manipulate those philosophies to convert directionless, wandering youths to his causes and, as a result, he may very well be defined as the living tombstone of the "Summer of Love." The "Manson Family," as Manson and his followers became known, went on to commit grisly murders intended as strikes against 'normal' society that were perceived as the enemy of young people everywhere. Like most criminals who commit bizarre deeds and have rather psychopathic personalities, Manson has become a fascinating subject studied for both educational use as well as shock value. Unfortunately, some people have used Manson's seemingly limitless insanity as a way to gain some profit by either making sensational interviews with him or releasing his music (he did compose tunes in the '60s) or, the most bizarre, printing his face on t-shirts, with the profits going to support Christian causes. In addition to this, he has also become a sort of weird cult figure, spawned from the dark recesses of American pop culture that seems to embrace outsiders like serial killers as a form of grim obsession.

Charles Manson Superstar is a documentary made from the point of view that Manson is, in fact, not the horrible criminal his legacy has made him out to be, but that he is a much more complex person with deep emotions and intense personal philosophies. In short, the documentary is sympathetic to Manson, something that most people will likely find rather disturbing, strange, or perhaps, laughable. On one hand, Nikolas Schreck's film is probably the best about Manson because it's entirely composed of interviews with the man himself and uses only sparse narration. It also acknowledges how Manson's "adoption" into pop culture is rather hypocritical from the society that condemns him. On the other hand, though, the approach is heavily and obviously biased. Schreck seems to think of Manson's often incoherent ramblings as a kind of transcendent glimpse into a brilliant mind; a mind that has created an extremely original view of the normal world from within the walls of prison, where he's spent most of his life. It's a novel approach, but one that's difficult for the average person to simply be drawn into.

While I tried to observe this film from that mindset, I just couldn't get into it. Despite the semi-pretentious nature of the narration (which nudges the viewers with repeated references to how mass media has "lied" about Manson for years), the film does offers a certain, well-played glimpse of this personality that has earned so much attention over the years. That said, I failed to see any "neo-Gnostic, magical philosophy" in Manson's tirades about the government, the prison system, and people in general. Perhaps I'd be more impressed if Manson were someone who did something with his life, but to me, he just comes off as someone who's immersed himself in his own world because his reality, frankly, sucks. Then we have the conspiracy angle, which suggests that Manson may have been some sort of patsy; a minor player in a much larger, more sinister criminal plan having to do with the sale and circulation of drugs amongst the wealthy of California. I will concede to Schreck that there are some unanswered questions about the Tate/LaBianca murders, and that there are some weird elements to Manson's life in California (like his strange, unexplored relationships with members of the Beach Boys prior to the murders), but it isn't enough to make me care about him much, frankly. I also agree that certain politicians used the Manson murders as a platform to move against any people considered "counter-culture" or "hippie." I still fail to see Manson's "self-initiatory" brilliance.

Ultimately, Charles Manson Superstar is only entertaining if you're interested in listening to Manson's philosophies for an hour. I will give points to the filmmakers who, unlike pathetic attempts at interviews with Manson made by "journalists" like Geraldo Rivera or Connie Chung, simply let him do his thing without constantly interrupting his flow. While some will find the very idea of this film frustrating and possibly offensive to the strongest degree (the Tate/LaBianca families?), I would advise not to take it too seriously.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Filmed on home video, the film isn't going to impress for it's complex cinematography and, in fact, most of it is set in an interview room at the prison in which Manson is kept. The transfer doesn't aggravate any natural issues, though, and what you see is what you get. Despite the analog issues of tracking and occasional jitters, the image isn't at all problematic.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is almost all dialogue in mono, with a few musical excerpts here and there—some of it from Manson's own recordings and some choice pieces from Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey and his trusty pipe organ.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There aren't any on-disc extras, but the keepcase insert contains new liner notes by director Nikolas Schreck in which he briefly discusses how, in a way, the documentary seems a bit uninformed and naïve, which I guess is an honorable statement. While he stands by his creation, his tone is a bit more realistic and restrained in the notes, including the admission that Manson was probably personally involved in the Tate/LaBianca murders, as opposed to his stance in the documentary. The cover art is by now-legendary underground artist Joe Coleman, who's bizarre work is, arguably, the best choice for something like this. His "freak show" style banner work fits the theme well, which may sound odd, but it's true.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Charles Manson Superstar, technically, succeeds completely in its intentions: to present Manson as a kind of unwilling victim of society's deeper problems. I don't agree with it, and you might not either, but there it is. While the film is generally well made and capable of presenting itself professionally (despite a few factual errors in the narration), it's hard for me, personally, to take the man very seriously. The documentary does engage some interesting topics of discussion, and the most fascinating aspect, to me, is wondering about the depths of Manson's role in the cult marketplace had he actually been executed as planned before the banning of the death penalty in California. Will he ever just fade away and be forgotten? Who knows.


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