Blu-ray Review: The Other Side of Madness - Limited 50th Anniversary Edition

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Why did Charles Manson command his "family" (aka brainwashed followers) to murder nine innocent people in the summer of 1969? Blame it on the drugs. At least, that seems to be the apparent conclusion drawn by the filmmakers who crafted The Other Side of Madness. Director Frank Howard and producer Wade Williams present this reductionist theory to explain away the still-largely inexplicable. Certainly the administering of hallucinogens may have helped Manson direct his minions to do his bidding, but there's a remarkable amount of other contributing factors that this 1971 noir-ish fever dream film ignores.

And yet, in its dated way, Madness remains a more essential piece for Mansonphiles than the despicable trash issued by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. QT's typically braindead revisionism managed to, yet again, convince critics, moviegoers, and the industry elite to believe the "Emperor" was outfitted in the finest duds. But where Hollywood's fantasy is an insult to those who died at the Manson Family's hands, Madness offers a dreamy, impressionistic slice of B&W pseudo-documentary.

Don't misinterpret that as especially high praise. Tom Gries' 1976 TV film, Helter Skelter, with its earth-shaking central portrayal by Steve Railsback, remains the most-accessible introduction to one of the most fascinating chapters of true crime in American history. Madness, available as a limited edition Blu-ray (1,500 units) from The Film Detective on November 24, is a footnote when it comes to cinematic exploration of this topic. Bold, to be sure, that producer Williams decided to tackle the subject matter while it was still fresh. Also of note: some of the film was shot at the real Spahn Ranch, home of Manson and company during the planning and execution of their crimes.

And director Howard's own cinematography is starkly beautiful, carefully remastered by The Film Detective for this new reissue. But this is not, repeat (with added emphasis) not, a narrative feature. It's an experimental work that requires the viewer to surrender all expectations of a fact-based, expository telling of the Manson story. What "story" is here is more an assemblage of related imagery. Not for all tastes, if one abandons all preconceived expectations and floats along with Madness's unusual flow, it is a period curiosity worth experiencing.

Of the included bonuses, the most worthwhile is a CD single of two Charles Manson original recordings, originally released as a "soundtrack" for Madness. There are two songs, "Garbage Dump" and "Mechanical Man," the latter of which being the far more interesting of the pair (take away the Manson authorship and either of these songs may have been at-home on a release by the more outré artists of the era, say The Fugs for instance).

There's also an interview with producer Wade Williams, a featurette "Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson," trailers, and a 12-page booklet.

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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