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1:38:38 Manson Makes Statement

Manson: The Myth and the Man

By Erika Berg

[1] The camera captures Charles Manson in profile from a distance, gradually moving closer in a 180 degree angle until, finally, his face fills the entire screen (1:38:38). Speaking calmly at first, Manson accuses the Establishment of having courrupted his followers. "You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are. And then you say how bad or even killers your children are. These children that come at you with knives are your children. You taught 'em, I didn't teach 'em." The longer Manson speaks, the more venemous and accusatory his words become. His eyes, taking on a fiery intensity, seem as though they are probing deep into our, the viewers', souls. Manson shouts, "Sometimes I wanna give it all back to ya. Sometimes I just wanna jump at ya and let you shoot me. If I could, I'd grab this microphone and beat your brains out with it, because that's what you deserve, that's what you deserve!"

[2] This scene, which depicts Manson's testimony at the trial for the macabre Tate-LaBianca slayings of 1969, is paradoxical in that it is the closest the film gets to portraying Manson as he truly is while forwarding the myth of Manson as demonic, mind-controlling guru. When his trial began in 1969, the media portrayed Manson as a cult-hero or revolutionary martyr. This portrayal stuck and many people still see Manson in this way today. Manson has made well-known his belief that District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted him and his family, is responsible for creating and perpetuating the Manson myth in his book Helter Skelter. In the book, Bugliosi quotes several of Manson's followers who claim that Manson controlled their thoughts and writes that he believes Manson "hypnotized" The Family. "The myth of Charles Manson has twisted more minds than I was ever accused of touching," Manson says in the book Manson In His Own Words, which was written to combat Helter Skelter and prove that he is simply an ordinary man, not a shaman (Emmons 225). Because Bugliosi wrote the book upon which Tom Gries' 1976 film is based, Manson would perhaps declare the film a perpetuator of the myth as well.

[3] Yet, in this scene, the film uses Manson's own words. The monologue, transcribed in Helter Skelter the book, is taken straight from what was recorded by the court sternographer. At no other point in the film are Manson's words recited exactly as they were spoken in 1969. In this scene, it is not his Family members, the prosecution's star witness, or Bugliosi who is describing the type of man Manson is. Instead, it is Manson's own opinions that give us an idea of Manson's character. However, is the man in this scene truly Manson? Upon closer examination, it seems that it is not, for, although Manson's words are quoted, the camera techniques used in creating the scene could be said to portray Manson as a wild, charismatic madman so capable of controlling people that the viewers themselves are in danger of being hypnotized. When Manson begins shouting, the camera moves in so close that only his eyes, nose, and mouth fill the screen. Rather than showing Manson looking at the people in the courtroom, as he would have done in reality, Gries has Manson stare unflinchingly into the camera, making him appear wild and hypnotic. But, at the same time this shot makes Manson appear guru-like, it also allows Manson to address the viewers, to get his message out to the Establishment, which was what he hoped to accomplish through the killings.

[4] Through this scene, the film allows us a glimpse of the real Manson while showing us the myth, which is why the scene stands out from all the others. And, because this scene appears in the film, perhaps Manson actually would not condemn the film as he did the book upon which it is based. For Manson himself admits to being confused about who the true Charles Manson is. "I may have implied on several occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven't decided what I am or who I am," Manson says (Bugliosi 345).

Bugliosi, Vincent, and Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1974.

Emmons, Nuel. Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of "The Most Dangerous Man Alive." New York: Grove Press, 1986.