Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thoughts on "Inside The Manson Gang"- A Film by Robert Hendrickson

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each others life."
-Richard Bach

"Family.... A group experience of love and support."
-Marianne Williamson

So after the conversation about Mark Ross the other day, I decided to go back and re-watch the "Inside the Manson Gang" DVD to refresh my memory. Since it is obvious from the conversation some of you have never seen it- I will pass on the notes about Ross, and some other things I thought were interesting....

I got the "Inside the Manson Gang" DVD with the "Manson" DVD as part of a Hendrickson package I ordered a few years back. As "Manson" was nominated for an Academy award and I never heard of the second movie - I assumed it would be mostly leftover footage that did not survive the cutting room. That may partially be the case. But, for someone like me- it really doesn't matter.  I could watch this stuff forever. I would watch every frame of film he took if I could. And actually- this focuses much more on the day to day life out at Spahn. The authentic footage of the natural setting and environment around the ranch, as well as the video of the family living as they were out there is mesmerizing to me. There is plenty here to see. They are filmed playing, partying, singing, swimming, and of course traveling in mass to the courthouse to pay homage to the King. Whereas "Manson" is more of a documentary with interviews and facts related to the crimes- this is a close- up look at life within the remaining family as it was. For those of you who would be interested in watching "Home movies" of life at Spahn Ranch- this is something you must see. Essentially- that is what most of this film is. There is some background on the times and on Hendrickson himself, but mostly this is a close up chance to see the Family "As it was". Groovy huh?? It was for me... I did notice a few things which bear mentioning and in no specific order here they are:

The guy in the pic at the top of this post who looks a little like James Brolin in Amityville Horror is Mark Ross. Hendrickson spends 10 minutes or so early in the movie explaining how he came across the family, and Ross was the guy who was responsible. Hendrickson describes him as a "Good friend", and also as the guy who was working as the lead actor in his second feature about the second coming. He explained at the time that Ross told him that he had a bunch of "Wannabee musicians" staying at his house. He also went on to say that Ross showed him the room where Zero killed himself and the gun he did it with. (Guess it was not taken into custody?) Mark Ross was the one who set up the filming. He said that Ross presented him an opportunity he couldn't pass up: An exclusive into the Manson Family. On the first night of filming they are inside of a tent or something and all the usual cast of characters are smoking a joint, and singing songs while Watkins play guitar and in the middle of it Ross shows up to a warm greeting and takes a seat in the circle.... Later Hendrickson mentions that after TLB, Ross said he was too fearful and never finished the project they had been working on. He also points out sarcastically that he didn't seem to afraid to finish the work they were doing on the "Family."  There is no doubt that Mark Ross was very close with, at least, the people living at Spahn after the arrests. He seemed very at home with them, and was in tight enough to be allowed to bring in friends with movie cameras. Hendrickson gives him full credit for making the introduction between himself and the "Family."

Which brings me to the next thing which stood out. For all the talk about Bruce, or anyone of the guys being second in command when Charlie was away... It was Squeaky who Hendrickson repeatedly had to wait on to go speak with Charlie for final approval on any issues which arose. From the original permission to film- to each day outside of the courthouse- the cameras seemed to be constantly showing Squeaky coming or going in to see Charlie for the final answer. At one point Hendrickson had to stop filming because Gypsy and Sandy were trying to take over direction of the filming. He demanded a meeting with Charlie in the clink. At this meeting Charlie told Gypsy to do whatever Hendrickson said, so Charlie seemed to be still calling most of the shots even while inside. At least during the filming of this Documentary. All decisions on where and how they could film where made by Charlie through jailhouse visits- most frequently done by Squeakster. But it was the women who seemed to be calling shots not Bruce or any of the men....

Heres another thing I noticed...Paul Watkins was back in the middle of things. He did the music with Brooks in the "Manson" Documentary, and was interviewed in a way which made me feel he was pro prosecution by this time, or at least working with them. However, here he is sitting in the middle of the party smoking weed and playing guitar while the others sing around him. No wonder he would later become a politician. This guy was adept at  playing both sides even back then..... 

As well- another prominent face in the middle of the partying and all the nudity is Juan Flynn. If you never read a book about the family and simply watch this video- you would walk away thinking he was as much a part of this family as any of them. He may have distanced himself later, and Bugs made him out to be one of the good guys, and maybe he really was. In this video he is certainly not showing any signs of being any different than the rest of them....

Hendrickson made 3 separate references to Bruce Davis possibly being the Zodiac. He asked at one point if he should just walk up to Bruce and ask him "How many people have you killed?" It is apparent that people have been suspicious of Bruce for almost 40 years.

Gyspy made a point of asking Hendrickson to make sure everyone knew they take baths like everybody else does. This tells me they weren't that out of it that they didn't recognize hygiene. They actually made a point of showing a couple of them bathing. So I am quite sure they got it even back then that it was a pretty filthy living they were doing. They had awareness of both the conditions and that people from outside were going to be critical of them....

BUT- Here I am going to stop. I am not going to go on my usual rant about the cleanliness and the kids/babies that were, as usual, there as well being filmed in all the elements. I am going to close with something different. I harp on the negatives enough and, like most of you, it is the spirit of the communal lifestyle which is interesting and even attractive to me. That is on full display here. So, let me give some props to some of  the family members who were shown in this film. These were some, beyond a doubt, unusual people who were zonked out of there minds on Acid, and a variety of other drugs. But, you cannot watch this film and not see the trust, love and respect for each other some of them had. Despite my protests about the living conditions- they were leading the lives they chose and were in a place which let them express themselves naturally and without pretense. These appear to be people living in harmony with each other. I  found myself envious at times watching them. They had a sense of freedom and ability to live without confining themselves to the expectations of others, which quite frankly, I will never posses. Absolutely there were some beautiful and peaceful moments between them. There were others here, besides the criminals, who were runaways and castoffs who didn't have many options. They were searching for the love and family all of us deserve. If they found it there with each other- and weren't hurting anyone else- Lets just say I should do a better job of understanding and respecting that sometimes. There were human beings living at Spahn Ranch. Sigh... Is this the time for me to make the joke about getting off my "High Horse?"  ;)

What I wonder, after watching, is if it was better earlier with Charlie and the others, or if life and the mood was lighter and without as much tension and pressure during the filming of this movie when he was already gone? Obviously,  not everyone in this group of people was evil. In the absence of Charlie and some of the others- there seems to be a very jovial and upbeat vibe. Not like the atmosphere I have read over and over existed just prior to, and immediately after, the crimes. They seemed to be having a really good time for the most part. For sure- there were some days back in the late 60's at Spahn Ranch both before and after the crimes when a person could have themselves quite an experience if they were smart and careful...

Again today I found myself spending quite a bit of time daydreaming about what it would be like to actually have been there. The first thought that ever crossed my mind after hearing about these people still crosses my mind today. What was it actually like to be there back in the day and at the time????

Sitting next to Country Sue under the Sun beneath a waterfall completely naked smoking a joint is something I would be too embarrassed and self conscious to do. But it didn't look like exactly the worst way on Earth to spend an afternoon either...

:)





21 comments:

Terrapin said...

ITMG is great because its the clearest footage we have of the Family and it has a lot of footage of them being themselves rather than being 'on' for the camera. All of the footage is amazing.

Some people probably won't like this but the narration kinda ruins ITMG as a movie for me. Hendrickson seems to me to be a bit of a paranoid individual. The constant insinuations that Davis was the zodiac to calling Clem "the Family's executioner", like offing people was his day to day job. And now all this sillyness about not releasing anything because someone might copy it kinda leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I don't want that to sound like i'm having a rant on Robert Hendrickson, Manson and ITMG are probably my two favourite documentary films of all time. I guess i'm just bitter it doesn't look like we'll get any more footage

Farflung said...

I recall how I was shocked into realizing there are several layers to perspectives based upon bias, culture, affinity, and…. age. These are but a few of the conditions which make finding some ground truth on history so challenging.

A few years ago a woman at work had written a paper about the ‘Altamont Free Concert’ in December 1969 for some college course; and wanted my review and input. I was surprised at one of the finer points where she had surmised the attendance being so vast that the Interstate system had to be shut down, and used as a parking lot and walkway. I mentioned that the Interstate in California wasn’t anywhere near complete in ’69 or ’70 for that matter, and suggested there must be some error.

“There wasn’t an Interstate?!” she exclaimed and added, “How old are you anyway?” She then referenced her source (1:16-1:21):

Altamont Concert

Yep, sure looks like the Interstate is saturated by concert attendees and their vehicles. But these fragments of disconnected roads littered the Central Valley of the state, and were literally:

Road to Nowhere

Such is my bias on travel through the center of California that Highway 99 has been my choice with the exception of a grand total of two times, when I used the amazingly bland and monotonous, I-5 since it opened for full use. So what does this have to do with Hendrickson’s documentary?

The key to being a documentarian is transparency, as like a historian, you DON’T want to become part of the story. This is a tall and difficult order with the best of intentions, and the best of conditions. To get a flavor of what is was like ‘then’ one needs to consider if any assumptions have been accidentally made like: the Interstate being shut down for the Altamont Free Concert.

Considering the timeframe and available technology, I would think the Manson clan was filmed with a 16 or 35mm film camera. These are not items which would easily blend into the background at Spahn’s or remotely go unnoticed by a group of people who may have their own agenda:

Period Technology

Imagine having one of those things pointed at you while you go about your ‘normal’ activities.

The film wasn’t cheap or common either. Four hundred or thousand foot rolls of film were loaded into the camera which could deliver around ten minutes of high cost visuals. The very nature of the expense and presence of the equipment, doesn’t exactly establish an environment that isn’t somewhat staged or scripted.

Squeaky acting naturally

The way Squeaky handles that shotgun, has the appearance of this being the first time she has touched that thing. She was clumsy, awkward, and stilted in how she misjudges the placement of the butt against her shoulder, dithering around the trigger guard, and leaning it into her body so she can use both hands to illustrate the shape of a valley. Sorry Squeaky, you didn’t come across as edgy and dangerous or natural and skilled.

It’s better than nothing and well done for the most part, but I’m not too sure how spontaneous or natural things could actually be considering the time and technology.

AustinAnn74 said...

I think the footage was the best I have ever seen on them in their natural environment. They were probably more relaxed looking, because they didn't have Manson there, barking orders at them night & day, nor terrorizing them with his mind games, and constant loyalty tests such as "will you kill me now" "are you willing to die for us" and throwing knives at people, etc. He terrorized those people. The footage from this documentary sees them reverting back to the way life had been before Manson went off the deep end. Of course, Squeaky was a mess, because the love of her life was locked up, and never coming out. I think Juan, and Little Paul went back, just to get laid. They knew CM wasn't going to be there, screwing with everyone's minds, so they went back, because it was fun to be there without Manson. The ranch was beautiful, but needed to be cleared of all the junk. It could of been a real commune without all the violence. They had land to even grow their own food, but he never allowed anything like that.

St. Circumstance said...

Hey lol had one of those moments today that only people in here will appreciate!!

One of my earliest high school crushes back in NJ went out to California for college and ended up getting married and staying out there.. Due to the magic of facebook I now am able to keep tabs on people like this and what they are up to..

Here was a facebook post she put up this morning :)


"My cousin teaches horseback riding in Topanga Canyon. Check out her summer camp and pass along to anyone that's interested. She's ridden her whole life - and was even a jockey!!"


I wonder if on my next trip out there I could get a horseback tour of the Spahn area, or Gary's neighborhood??? I wonder if she knew any of these people??

I wonder if I just come right out and start asking the questions or if I make some excuse up to these people why I am asking so much about Manson????

The camp is at a place called "trust ranch" - not that far from Spahn on a map...

The woman who is running it (my old friends cousin) looks like she is older than me and her facebook interests indicate possible hippy... ( Janis Joplin/Bob Marley)

if this woman has been in the LA area her whole life like I believe and has been riding horses her whole life...

in that area....

Maybe she has some stories or memories of our favorite group of people???

maybe some past interactions???

How do I ask someone I haven't seen in 25 years if I can reach out to one of there relatives I have never met to ask Charles Manson questions???

lol am I totally reaching anyway??


Matt said...

You can't without her knowing you've creeped her FB profile. All the more reason to go ahead & ask!

Professor said...

Thanks for the thoughts and insights about these two videos. I have never seen them in full, but would love to watch them. Where is the best place to pick them up?

Btw,it is fascinating to wonder about what the Family's "natural state" was. Did they revert back to being a loving/communal group due to Charlie's absence...and leave behind the violence initiated by him? Sounds like from the documentary that this is who they were pre/post Charlie, and that the violence was really not a part of their DNA. But, the Hawthorne shootout, and the murders, the attempted assassination by the other family members over the next several years seems to contradict that.

I am curious what others insight is on this?


Btw, there was (and maybe still is) a place to rent/ride horses at the end of Roscoe Blvd...near Box Canyon in Simi Valley and not to far from Spahn. It was called B&B horses when I was a kid...or something like that. It was operated by several older cowboys that would certainly be old enough to remember the time period that we are talking about here. I wonder if any of these guys are around to talk to anymore.

St. Circumstance said...

Professor..

The 2 DVD's came autographed as a set and ordering information is on Hendricksons website I am sure-

I think at the time I got to it through a link on Charlie Manson.com

Professor said...

One last thought that I have been meaning to post/ask about. I have a good friend that works at the LA county fire station (#75's) that happens to be in the Chatsworth Lake Manor area. This is, to my knowledge, the closest LA county fire station to Spahn Ranch. If you know this area back there, than you know that it has always been a very popular hippie / biker place to live. The San Fernando Hell's Angel Chapter has their clubhouse back there still. It is in many ways very similar to the Topanga Canyon environment that Hinman lived in.

Anyways, the story that has been told for years is that one of the Family members actually snuck into the Fire Station and left a message saying, "Leave us alone." or something to that effect. If you look at the fire station, you will notice that it is simply an old house converted into a fire station. Not brick like the typical one, so it would have been very possible to do so.

Not sure if this story is true. But if so, it adds even more strangeness to the Family that they would creepy call an LA County Fire Station! It is not out of the question I guess. I imagine the fire dept. would have been called to Spahn on several occasions for whatever reasons during that time period. Anyone ever hear of anything like this?

Professor said...

Here is the picture of that fire station that I mentioned:

http://fire.lacounty.gov/HometownFireStations/Photos/FS075.jpg

leary7 said...

just a dumb question cause I am listening to them now, but was anyone in the Family a Deadhead?
Any record of Charlie's thoughts on the Dead?

Lauren Webster said...

Leary, there's a quote about Manson seeing the Grateful Dead:

“I remember the first time somebody took me to the Avalon Ballroom to hear the Grateful Dead, it was one of the first times that I had been high [on LSD]. I had never seen a strobe light before and the music was so loud! I just got frightened and I curled up in a corner in a prenatal position and felt like I wanted to go back to the pen.”

— Charles Manson; Feb 13, 1970

St. Circumstance said...

Bobby was in a few bands in the Haight- Orkustra I think is the one he mentions on his site shared the stage with the Dead....

I think he spoke of shows they both did for the Diggers...

Farflung said...

Professor,

Here’s a little connection to Fire Station #75, at the bottom of page 4, of the Spahn Ranch Police Report:

(Note: you need to click on “Links to Tate Police Report…” below the image, THEN click the “Spahn Ranch Raid Report”) Don’t know why the URL won’t go directly to the data. Sorry.

Spahn Ranch Police Report/ Engine Company #75

It’s difficult to read, but I think it says the following:

‘Since that theft, Dale Butler received information from Los Angeles County Fireman Witt, Engine Company #75, that Fireman Witt observed the Volkswagen and other parts stolen’

END OF PAGE

Top of page 5:

‘from Butlers in the Devil’s Canyon area, which is located in the hills about three miles north of the Spahn Ranch. At the time Fireman Witt saw the parts, he was threatened by several of the male subjects who were in the Devil’s Canyon area. The threats to the Fireman have been mentioned in prior memos.’

It looks like there’s a connection to the Family and Engine Company #75 after all. Could your friend know of Fireman Witt?

leary7 said...

thanks Lauren. Charlie freaked out by the Dead. Now that is a chuckle.

Matt said...

Professor,

The movies & book can be purchased on Robert Hendrickson's site:

exclusivefilms.com



Panamint Patty said...

The cover photo on this post always makes Patty laugh. They all look like theyv'e been smoking weed all day to soften the acid peak

orwhut said...

Squeak was cute in that clip. It was good and clear too.

Professor said...

Farflung,
Great info. regarding the fire station #75. I will ask about firefighter Witt. Thank you!

rfoster1 said...

I only wish Hendrickson could've documented the Family before the murders. But, if it weren't for the murders, why would he?

Sun King said...

I loved watching it for the film footage. The narration/commentary is a bit over the top for me though.

Without Manson present the vibe seems to have reverted to being pretty mellow though I'm sure there were still lot of underlying issues, i.e Bruce being on the run, Paul splitting etc.

fiona1933 said...

Why would you be embarrassed? That's the whole thing about them, they're so relaxed, no way you could be embarrassed because they had created a new norm. Anyone could blend in at once, with no outside voice to yell "Put some clothes on!"

And my favourite thing, as it is in all 70s things, is the lovely individuality of them all.

I have a new theory. I think that the reason all todays stars look the same is the teeth. Not just the white and straight thing. But people have their teeth braced and removed and filed to a standard. This alters the shape of your jaw, hence, we now have people with the same lower face everywhere, all look the same.

Anyone notice how new stars now are tending to have really big eyes? Like Mila Kunis for example? Loads of others but don't know names. This is because you can still stand out with big eyes or cheekbones.

Look at the Manson girls. Every one has different teeth and so a different face shape. Plus different hair: no stupid extensions, and lovely natural slim bodies, and plump bodies, all gorgeous in their own way. I could rave on this for hours, I love to see it. I was watching Jesus Christ Superstar, and also Marjoe and saw the same thing. Men too, not just girls. Look at these stars now. I cannot tell Zac Efron from …I dont know. All got same face and hair and expression and same tolerant attitudes, not a single opinion to be heard.