Leslie, My Name Is Evil Reginald Harkema

Leslie, My Name Is Evil Reginald Harkema
At first glance, the Manson Family trial at the heart of Leslie, My Name Is Evil seems an odd subject for a Canadian filmmaker. Apart from some hand-me-down tales of Yorkville's longhaired heyday, we've never really courted the '60s counterculture mythos in any meaningful way. Ditto the serial killer cult of personality. But these are the things that make the Manson trial such great material for Reginald Harkema, one of the most truly exceptional Canadian filmmakers. Harkema's last feature, 2006's Monkey Warfare, cast Don McKellar and the late Tracy Wright as aging, off-the-grid radicals hawking garage sale finds on eBay, proving that its director possessed a nuanced understanding of everything from montage (not surprising, considering he has worked as an editor for the likes of Bruce McDonald and Guy Maddin), Marxist theories of exchange value and the French New Wave (on an excellent behind-the-scenes feature on this disc, Harkema is referred to as the love child of Godard and Agnès Varda). Leslie further develops these fascinations, painting the trial of Manson girl killer Leslie Van Houten (Kristen Hager) with bright pop art brushstrokes. A masterful exercise in chic stylishness of '60s Euro-pop cinema (see: Godard and William Klein, for example), Leslie further cements Harkema's slowly crystallizing repute as one of Canada's most gifted, and distinctive, film artists. But beyond the bounties of formal panache, Leslie works as a clever nostalgia trip through Vietnam-era U.S. culture, and the conditions that could turn Van Houten, once an unassuming Catholic girl, into a murderess. Beyond Leslie's instruction in Manson's doctrine of class-warfare and apocalypticism, Harkema's film centres on the flirtation between Van Houten and an impressionable juror (Gregory Smith) making eyes at her from across the courtroom. The interplay between the two speaks superbly to the America of the late '60s, where a kid was just as likely to turn to acid as he was get a haircut, a real job, a mortgage and slip into the mould of God-fearing American. The disc also includes a lively commentary by Harkema. (E1)