Monday, November 01, 2004


Sweet Jesus, I have seen the most frightening film I've ever encountered. The most ambitious movie I've seen in years, one for which I have considerable respect; and one which I will be very interested to see the public response to, should it ever be distributed en masse in its present form: Jim VanBebber's The Manson Family, the closing show at the Cinemuerte Festival. (Film Threat interview with VanBebber here -- also features a really amazing image of Maureen Allisse as Susan Atkins). It took years to make, required great struggle on the part of the filmmaker, and shows love that is far greater than that of a craftsman. Not the love of a Manson devotee, either -- "I'm not Nicholas Shreck, I don't save his toenail clippings," the director clarified during the post-film Q&A -- but the love of someone truly fascinated by his subject matter and determined to capture the truth of it. Tho' VanBebber claimed not to care about the reactions of the Family, or of anyone, really, to his film -- "it's a work of art... buy the DVD and shit on it if you like," he's standing behind his work -- he does try very hard to capture what it must have felt like inside their heads; extends them far more sympathy than some viewers will be comfortable with. The filmmaker draws us in very carefully and lets us experience, insofar as any film could, what it must have been like to orgy on acid with the Family, using their own accounts and words wherever possible; once we've linked our subjectivity to its characters, followed them with some degree of understanding and sympathy into the darkness, we're then to ask us what it must then have felt like to stab people repeatedly about the face and shoulders, or to listen to a woman beg for the life of her unborn child before killing her. The violence is brutal and allows for a certain tone of dark revelry, such as the Family members presumably felt on their missions to murder. It's scary as hell that any human being could do such a thing... but that's kinda the point; I haven't seen violence on film that left me quite this uncomfortable since I shut off Last House on the Left in mid-viewing, the one time I attempted to watch it.

Only one of the audience "comment's" during the Q and A was negative, and this is where it focused: "that is the most violent film I've ever seen" (to which the director replied, "bullshit," drawing some cheers and laughs). I asked VanBebber if he worried about anyone's reaction -- how the victim's families might feel, for instance -- but he either feels no concern -- feels like his responsibility is to his art and subject matter alone -- or else is not 'fessing up in public to it. He's within his legal rights in everything he's done, or so he says, and sees this as history and art, self-justifying. He put it somethin' like, "Are the families of Pearl Harbour survivors going to sue Michael Bay for his shitty movie?" ...the man has brass balls, or somethin'. Personally, I'd have a very hard time making any work of art that could dig as deeply into unhealed wounds as this one does.

I think I'm gonna spend a lot of my freetime during this next week probing the 'net for public reactions to this film. I suspect there are some strong ones out there. Roger Ebert describes it thus: "This is not a 'horror' film or an 'underground' film, but an act of transgression so extreme and uncompromised... that it exists in a category of one film -- this film." Tho' I'm not sure that the film itself is transgressive -- unless trying to capture accurately the experience of people who transgress is a transgressive act unto itself, which I suppose it may be -- Ebert's review is actually a far better place to read about the actual contents of the film than this blog, but what can I say, it's late (2 AM) and I need to be up for work in about four hours.

Cinemuerte is dead again for this year. Long live Cinemuerte! I think this is gonna turn into my favourite Vancouver festival...

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