February 6, 2020
Ever since the shockingly gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders of August 1969, The Manson Family have cast a long shadow over not only the 60s counterculture and its images of free loving, acid-dropping, Establishment challenging, hippie flower children but also American culture as a whole. Rather than ushering in the fabled Age of Aquarius where peace and love would reign supreme, it appeared that the promise of "The Psychedelic Sixties" had ended with an unimaginably wanton act of violence and bloodshed. The clarion call of Dr. Timothy Leary and the Woodstock Generation to "Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out" seemed to take on a much more sinister meaning as Charles Manson and those who lived by his side in the desert mountains of California became popular culture's de facto avatar for evil in the latter 20th century. Coupled with the January election of President Richard Nixon, who successfully campaigned under on "Law and Order" platform that promised reaffirm the Establishment status quo, the saga of the Manson Family spelled the grim end of an era and its dashed hopes for the so-called Age of Aquarius.
Perhaps that is why, a half century later, the faint echoes of the Manson Family and the Tate-LaBianca murders reverberate within popular culture. Through the decades there's been endless documentaries, movies, TV shows, books, and more either inspired by, based on, or seeking to make sense of it all. There's even been alternative theories proposed to challenge prosecutor's Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter telling of the whole twisted affair. Some, such as the controversial Nikolas Schreck, have argued that the Tate-LaBianca murders were a drug burn gone awry. Others, most notably the late conspiracy-minded radio host Mae Brussell, have speculated that the murders were a plot to crush the counterculture and that the Manson Family were products of the CIA's Cold War-era mind control experiments with the now infamous MK ULTRA project. Ed Sanders, the poet and counterculture icon of the seminal hippie folk-rock band The Fugs, attempted to draw a connection between Manson and a little-know cult with the ominous name The Process Church of the Final Judgment in his 1971 chronicle of the case THE FAMILY. And, of course, there are those who believe that Bugliosi's account of the events, as detailed in his 1974 best-seller HELTER SKELTER, remains the definitive final word on the whole matter.
After all these years one could be forgiven for thinking that Charles Manson's death on November 19, 2017 from a cardiac arrest would be the nail in the coffin for his and The Manson Family's hold on the popular imagination. And yet multiple major motion pictures since have been based on, inspired/influenced by, or involved the Manson saga including the Hillary Duff-starring THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE, heavy-metal-rocker-turned-horror-filmmaker Rob Zombie's gory 3 FROM HELL, American Psycho director Mary Harron's CHARLIE SAYS, and, of course, Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Additionally, new books continued to be published on the subject including CREEPY CRAWL: CHARLES MANSON AND THE MANY LIVES OF AMERICA'S MOST INFAMOUS FAMILY by Jeffrey Melnick, which offered a cultural study of the Manson Family and its influence on the American psyche to this very day, and CHAOS: CHARLES MANSON, THE CIA, AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SIXTIES by journalist Tom O'Neill. The latter book challenged Vincent Bugliosi's generally accepted HELTER SKELTER by delving into alternative theories related to the Family as well as the murders and became something of a sleeper hit covered by outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian upon its publication in the summer of 2019.
What is it the continues to fascinate so many about The Manson Family? Why the continued popularity of alternative theories to explain the murders? What, if anything, does the Family and the Tate-LaBianca murders mean in the context of the peace and love counterculture of the 1960s? Filmmaker Lonnie Martin attempts to address these questions without finding the elusive answers in his fascinating and engrossing new movie THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS.
Based on the essay "My Acid Trip with Squeaky Fromme" by late counterculture legend and self-described "investigative satirist" Paul Krassner, THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS follows Krassner's (played here by Elliot Kashner) attempt to investigate and unravel The Manson Family saga after being spurred on by the conspiracy-minded California radio fixture Mae Brussell (Robin Reck). Despite his admitted skepticism toward Brussell's theories, Krassner find himself drawn into chasing the phantoms of the Manson story and, in an effort to find them, decides to spend an acid-tripping day with the three remaining members of Charlie's Family that aren't confined to a cold cell: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Jen Bevan), Sandra Good (Cindy Marie Martin), and Brenda McCann (Sarah Taurchini). Alternately scared and attracted to the trio, Krassner ends up not only chasing phantoms but also getting to know THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS and confronting his own demons in the acid-drenched process.
Elliot Kashner as Paul Krassner hanging out with THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS (Cindy Marie Martin, Jen Bevan, and Sarah Taurchini)
Cindy Marie Martin as Sandra Good in THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS
Jen Bevan as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS
The director of THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS, filmmaker Lonnie Martin, joins us to discuss the movie, its character-driven nature, the role of gender in the movie, how the male gaze plays into the story, how it started out as a Master's thesis, his correspondence with Paul Krassner, what interested him about "Squeaky" Fromme as a primary subjective for a narrative film, working with the actors and actresses on who starred in it, the film's major themes, the Sixties counterculture, and much, much more.
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