QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
Serial killer Charles Manson is dead. He passed away at the age of 83 last November. But there is still plenty of curiosity surrounding his leading role in a series of nine murders across California over a period of five weeks nearly five decades ago (in the Summer of 1969). The eyes of a female filmmaker investigates the nuts and bolts of the horrific true story. She sheds light on the episode with the help of the three “Manson girls”: Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. Yet this is not a documentary, but a drama film instead.
The director faces a major challenge: how to humanise these three girls without redeeming them. She doesn’t want to demonise her characters, yet she doesn’t want to endorse their crime. Graduate Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) guides the narrative. Leslie Van Houten plays Hannah Murray. Marianne Rendon is Susan Atkins. And Matt Smith (yes, the guy from Doctor Who and Netflix’s series The Crown) plays the ring leader Charles Manson. Smith has raised the bar and demonstrates that he can play just about any role.
Charlie Says reconstructs the events through an entirely female perspective. It raises and attempts to answer many pertinent questions. Why and how were these three girls brainwashed? What was it like to be a woman in the US in the late 1960s?
There are elements of violence, sociopathy ans sheer perversion all over the film. These women were just the tip of the iceberg. The film reveals that no less than 100 became part of the infamous cult led by Charles Manson, which spread fear, anger and blood all over California. Charles Manson wished to become to become a pop icon of the grotesque. He succeeded, it seems.
Guinevere Turner’s script is based on Ed Sanders’s book The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion. Charlie Says has plenty of mainstream appeal is probably intended to become a blockbuster, but that’s about it. It lacks a little edge. This film will never become a cult (no pun intended). It won’t be remembered forever.
Charlie Says is showing at the 75 Venice International Film Festival, which is taking place right now.