Reginald Harkema's incendiary new film Leslie, My Name Is Evil (the follow-up to his celebrated 2006 feature Monkey Warfare) focuses on the trial of Charles Manson and his followers, but it's far from a conventional re-hash of the grisly details. Leslie is a charged, intensely stylized postmodern analysis of one of the key battles in the culture wars that consumed America for much of the sixties.
The ostensible hero is Perry (Gregory Smith), an earnest, sexually desperate young chemist engaged to Dorothy (Kristin Adams), a devout Christian who refuses to sleep with him until they get married. "I love you, but I love Jesus more," she explains. When he's called for jury duty on the Manson Family trial, Perry is exposed to a completely different world, one defined by drugs, rock 'n' roll and, most importantly, free love. He's especially taken with Leslie Van Houten (Kristen Hager), who appears to be the least overtly indoctrinated member of the family.
Though the filmmakers adhere to the facts, the film is fundamentally anti-realist, mixing camp, agitprop and the devices of both courtroom dramas and true-crime shows - a combination that makes for numerous moments of fiercely intelligent and spectacularly uncomfortable comedy. The film forces the viewer to confront both the trial's sordid celebrity aspects and its political-cultural connotations.