“Notorious” doesn’t even begin to describe the murderous cult leader Charles Manson; the horror and the terror that he brought to Los Angeles in 1969 and his subsequent life sentence should have been the end of his story. Bizarrely, it was only the beginning; his following only grew in the time after the Tate-LaBianca murders, and he became a cult hero to a fringe, transgressive counterculture. Yet even in death, Manson courted infamy, and a new Reelz documentary, Charles Manson: The Funeral (Saturday, April 13, 8pm ET/5pm PT) documents the complex overtime drama of one of 20th Century America’s most disgusting and revolting criminals.
Yet the story isn’t about Manson; it’s the story of a young, normal, sensitive man named Jason Freeman, a thirty-something from the Midwest who just so happened to be the legitimate grandson of a man so heinous that his already estranged family almost instantly went into hiding/denial about their connection to him. Freeman’s father was the only child legally documented as being Manson’s offspring, even though Manson quickly left his girlfriend and son behind. Sadly, when Jason was 16, his father committed suicide, and this loss of a father figure and the mystery of his ancestry would lead the young man to seek out his grandfather. Just to show how repulsive Manson was, he refused to accept his son, refused to communicate with him, and is heard on a taped conversation with Freeman mocking and laughing about his father’s death. Even so, Freeman builds a correspondence with his grandfather.
When he learns of his grandfather’s passing, Freeman decides that the best way to close the book on this part of his heritage is to provide Manson with a funeral and burial—much to the skepticism of his wife and his mother. Surprisingly, Freeman discovers he has to vie for the legal right to claim his grandfather; three other individuals––two of which claim to be relatives, one of which claims to hold Manson’s will––and a legal battle ensues. One claimant of genetic relation is quickly dismissed, and the will a friend claims to have is soon dismissed as not legitimate. The second claimant, however, has a stronger and more credible case; his mother had been a teenage girl who joined the Manson family in 1967 and quickly got pregnant; it was assumed and believed that Manson was his father, and Manson took on the parental role for the child, himself believing the boy to be his son. It’s only after a DNA test 50 years after his birth that he learned he is not Charlie Manson’s child. Imagine having to live with that dubious distinction for half a century, only to discover the shame you lived with in the shadow that hung over you turned out to be false!
After Freeman wins the case, you would think the story would be anticlimactic, right? Wrong. By the end of it all, Freeman is frustrated, emotionally drained, and one can’t help but think he should have listened to the warnings of his wife and his mother. He certainly does seem to have a different opinion of it all by the end of the documentary, and considering all he has just been through, one can’t blame him at all. Charles Manson: The Funeral is a bizarre little document, and if it shows one thing, it’s that our “Reality TV” society has its boundaries and limits of good taste, and may not be healthy for people of certain dispositions.