“In 1969, people actually believed there was a revolution happening.
We made this movie to scare hippies, hopefully in a humorous way.”
~ John Waters
For me, the most stunning part of this gritty black and white cult film
was not the rosary-up-the-ass church sex,
or the extreme acts of depravity
performed in the tents of a travelling freak show called
Cavalcade of Perversion.
This is a John Waters film after all.
What I was stunned by was
the director/producer/writer/cinematographer/editor’s use of
Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson Family as part of the plot.
This would have been extremely shocking at the time,
being the film was released mere months after
the actual killing took place.
The Manson murders happened in 1969.
Multiple Maniacs came out in 1970.
And it’s still shocking.
(The only other film that I have seen recently
with Manson as the subject of the plot
that may not have been as shocking or revolting as Multiple Maniacs,
but equally riveting, and deeply thought-provoking
was the J. Davis dramady that came out in 2015:
Manson Family Vacation,
currently streaming on Netflix.
Linas Phillips stars as an obsessed and devoted Manson Family follower,
but for reasons like no others.
For those interested in the impact these murders have had on popular culture,
trust me, Manson Family Vacation is a must-see!)
John Waters reflecting on the newly-restored,
reviled, revolting, and resplendently profane Multiple Maniacs
(as told to Kory Grow at Rolling Stone):
"It's even weirder now than it ever was.
When I was watching it again, I was thinking,
'No wonder my parents were uptight.'
But I'm proud of it."
In Multiple Maniacs,
we learn that raunchy drag queen Lady Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead)
has blackmailed Mr. David (David Lochary), her memory-deprived boyfriend
into believing that it was HE who was at the Tate residence that night,
and that it was HE who committed the murders.
This was to ensure Mr. David would continue to be not only Divine’s devoted boy-toy,
but the superb Master of Ceremonies of the Cavalcade of Perversion.
There’s a scene in which Mr. David (my favourite character in the film by the way)
grows wise to Divine’s betrayal
when he picks up a newspaper to discover
a headline that reads Patricia Krenwinkle and Charles “Tex” Watson
had been arrested for the Tate murders.
Their leader Charles Manson had yet to be caught.
John Waters: “The night right before we finished, they caught Manson.
So I had to put that in because I knew it didn't make sense.
Even then, nobody knew who those people were.
We didn't know that story was going to turn into what it became.
So we filmed it with him seeing the Manson headline on the newspaper.”
As the story moves along, we see Divine getting his.
Raped in the film twice.
Once in a back alley by two glue-sniffers,
and a second time by a giant lobster.
Yes, that’s right, a giant lobster.
On a shoe-string budget of $5,000,
the film was shot in Waters’ hometown of Baltimore
with the circus side show scenes
and the smashing of the car windows scene by a deranged and bloody Divine
shot directly on the front lawn of Waters’ parent’s real-life home.
Other scenes were shot in Waters’ own apartment,
complete with a capture of his original silver of Jackie O by Andy Warhol,
hanging on the wall.
I recently learned that John Waters has, like many of us,
a life-long fascination with the Manson Family.
He has used parts of their story in his other movies,
and he wrote a book called Role Models
for which a five-part excerpt about his relationship with Leslie Van Houten,
another member of the Manson Family,
was published in the Huffington Post
entitled Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship.
This is the same Mansonite who,
on the second night of the Manson murder spree
gleefully stabbed to death Rosemary LaBianca, sixteen times,
because it was what her leader Charles Manson wanted,
and then changed out of her bloody clothes
and into something out of LaBianca’s closet,
before she left the murder site.
At the murder trial, Van Houten was completely devoid of remorse
and carved an X in her forehead in support of her leader.
Waters, also known as the Pope of Trash
apparently attended the Manson trial as it happened,
because he needed to know firsthand why and how
kids with a similar upbringing to his
could have committed such atrocious acts.
Had I been old enough at the time and living in California
I would have attended the Manson trial too.
Waters described the atmosphere inside the courtroom as:
“electric with twisted evil beauty.”
Further adding that it was such an amazing thing to see in person
that he was heavily influenced, and actually jealous of their notoriety.
“I went back to Baltimore and made Pink Flamingos which I wrote,
directed and dedicated to the “Manson girls”, Sadie, Katie and Les.”
Pink Flamingos is a film this writer has yet to see,
but that which has now risen to the top of her list of musts,
along with Waters’ books.
Since the trial,
Waters has visited Charles “Tex” Watson in prison.
And he dedicated Female Trouble to him,
yet another film this writer has yet to see, and must,
“a fictitious biopic about a woman who is brainwashed into believing
‘crime is beauty’.”
And Waters has actively advocated for Leslie Van Houten's parole from a California prison
where she’s been incarcerated for the past 47 years,
(the youngest woman ever to be sentenced to death
until escaping it when the death penalty was abolished in 1972
by the California State Supreme Court)
for the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at the age of 19.
Waters has formed a close, personal relationship with her.
This screening of the newly restored Multiple Maniacs
was my first time seeing it.
And I found it truly a remarkable film for so many reasons,
for entertaining the circus side-show freak in all of us, for one.
I was riveted.
It had me laughing out loud
and fighting back the urge to throw up
all at the same time.
And from the get-go, I was struck by the amazing cinematography,
the exotically-dressed, sophisticated perverts,
and the cool convertible they drove around in.
I found the poorly delivered lines by some of the actors quite comical,
and I loved the waaaaay cool sound of that grungy guitar in the soundtrack.
But ever since leaving the screening,
my mind keeps going back to that scene when we found out
that Divine had been manipulating Mr. David into thinking he was the Tate murderer,
and I haven’t stopped being fascinated by Waters fascination with the Manson Family.
Perhaps it’s because ever since I was a kid,
an impressionable kid who was raised Catholic
and grew up in 1960s and 70s suburbia,
with five older brothers and sisters,
one of which constantly played The Beatles White Album;
a rock and roll-obsessed kid who watched a lot of television
including Helter Skelter,
that incredible 1976 made-for-television movie
starring Steve Railsback who truly became Charles Manson;
a movie that has become soooo embedded in my dna over the years
with a musical score by Billy Goldenberg
that raises the hair all over my body the instant I hear it,
began her own life-long fascination with the Manson Family.
I also read the 1974 book at a very young age,
written by the trial’s prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi
for which the made-for-tv movie is based.
All my life, I have wondered about the same things as Waters.
Just like millions of others all over the world who wonder about the same things, actually.
Waters certainly isn’t the only one!
Far from it.
But like Waters, who relates to Houten dropping acid in her youth
but who has never had a bad trip himself,
I too have dropped acid in my youth and never had a bad trip,
Because I was once a hippie chick who wore flowery dresses,
Birkenstock sandals and bells around her ankles too.
When I travelled in a cult with other similarly clad and tie-dyed hippies
following the Grateful Dead all over the United States of America.
But while on acid, I did not necessarily gain “confidence in my lunacy”.
Nor did I think about killing another human being.
not even for a millisecond.
My experiences while tripping with the Grateful Dead,
aside from music being the primary draw,
were truly about peace, love and fun!
Then again, I wasn’t under the control of a sociopath;
a master manipulating maniac
who preyed upon young and vulnerable,
messed-up runaway girls looking for a father figure,
to help carry out his plans of mass murder.
LSD as we all know
definitely expands the mind,
and provides an excellent outlet for creativity
for which Waters certainly made use of
to transfer his thoughts of extreme atrocities
I followed and continue to follow the lives, parole hearings,
and deaths of the Manson Family in the news,
as well as the family of the victims,
and that other film director hugely impacted by the murders,
although for completely different and much more personal reasons than Waters,
husband of actress Sharon Tate,
who was carrying their unborn child
at the time she was slaughtered in the name of Manson madness.
But as much as I may relate to Waters’ fascination with the story,
and applaud him for his courage in using the subject in his work,
despite its complete disrespect toward the victims in doing so,
I do not agree with his belief that Van Houten should be paroled.
Some of Manson’s followers were set free,
and never heard from again.
Which I find rather scary.
I mean, just because they’ve never shown up on police radar
doesn’t mean they’re up to any good.
Forgiveness by some could be granted, possibly, perhaps, maybe.
But should the murderers of the people at
the LaBianca and Tate residences be set free?
I think not.
No, absolutely not.
And they won’t be.
Because despite society’s rapid increase in attention deficit disorder
and increasing ability to forget and move on,
the Tate/LaBianca murders and the names of their killers and leader
have never waned an iota in their power to be completely unforgettable.
I’m on Patty Tate’s side of the fence,
the sister of Sharon who said at one of the parole hearings:
“I have no animosity.
I want these people to flourish within the confines of [these] prison walls.
I want them to be productive and have lives within the confines
of these walls right here.”
But obviously I haven’t been following the Manson story as close as I thought,
to have missed the part as it is linked to John Waters.
The last thing that really gripped my attention
was the denial of parole to a dying Susan Atkins in 2009.
And her death in prison shortly thereafter.
Yet it feels like yesterday!
And so I’ve been backtracking to news stories on line that I missed
and re-visiting interview clips on Youtube,
such as the ones from the 1994 ABC News magazine Turning Point’s documentary
The Manson Women: Inside the Murders,
with Manson, Krenwinkle and Van Houten being interviewed by Diane Sawyer.
See what happens after going to see a screening
of the newly-restored Multiple Maniacs at tiff. Bell Lightbox?
I’m now a bigger fan of John Waters than I was before
(loved his Polyester by the way),
and will likely become even more of a fan
once I see the other films mentioned above
and read the book Role Models,
with the realization that perhaps, just maybe
I’m as fascinated by Waters’ fascination with the Family,
and that he pleaded with Jann Wenner to let him interview Van Houten
for Rolling Stone magazine,
because one of my early aspirations as a writer
was to go to that California prison
and conduct a face-to-face, in-depth interview
with Charles Manson himself.
The trailer for Multiple Maniacs…
The excerpts from John Waters book in the Huffington Post,
entitled Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship…
The official website for tiff. Bell Lightbox…