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It All Went Down: Bobby Beausoleil, the Gary Hinman Murder and Lucifer Rising

March 6, 2022

Nicola Black is a Scottish filmmaker whose work includes Designer Vaginas, When Freddie Mercury Met Kenny Everett and the excellent White Jazz, which is perhaps the greatest of all the documentaries which have been produced on the life and work of James Ellroy.

I’ve been corresponding with Nicola for some time, and when I recently published a piece examining the parallels between Ellroy and Manson Family victim Steven Parent, she notified me of a documentary she had been working on for several years, provisionally titled It All Went Down, which tells the story of Bobby Beausoleil and the murder of Gary Hinman, its links to the Manson Family, and most intriguing of all, Beausoleil’s role in Kenneth Anger’s cult independent film Lucifer Rising.

Lucifer Rising

Bobby Beausoleil was born in Santa Barbara in 1947. He had a fairly typical Californian upbringing for the time. He would visit his grandparents in El Monte where, by coincidence, one of the Manson Family’s victims (Steven Parent) grew up. His interest in music was sparked, as a child, when he discovered a guitar in his grandmother’s attic. As a teen he started getting into trouble, and after a spell in Los Prietos Boys Camp he began to drift between Los Angeles and San Francisco, becoming involved with the growing counter-culture movement. Beausoleil joined several bands and came to the attention of independent filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Anger was smitten by the good-looking Beausoleil and cast him in the eponymous role of his short film Lucifer Rising, in which Beausoleil would play the Fallen Angel. However, no sooner had filming commenced when things began to fall apart. There are various accounts as to why the production ground to a halt. According to Nicola, ‘One story is that the money for the film was spent on drugs rather than film stock; the other version is that Bobby stole the rushes after he and Kenneth argued, leaving for LA where he ran into the Manson family.’ Anger later completed the film Invocation of My Demon Brother using left-over footage of Beausoleil he had from the Lucifer Rising shoot.

The Murder of Gary Hinman

It was Beausoleil’s encounter with Charles Manson that would seal his fate. At first glance Manson and his lifestyle seemed very attractive to Bobby. Manson was an aspiring singer-songwriter with a handful of showbiz connections, and a bevy of beautiful followers eager to indulge in his free love philosophy. Another acquaintance of Manson’s was the music teacher Gary Hinman. Beausoleil and Hinman, at least nominally, became friends. They were both talented musicians and Hinman had once played at Carnegie Hall. Manson was under the impression that Hinman was the heir to a sizable fortune and sent Beausoleil, accompanied by two female followers Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner, to Hinman’s home in Topanga Canyon with orders to extort a slice of it. Hinman refused to give them any money. Manson travelled to the house by car, driven by his right-hand man Bruce Davis, carrying either a samurai sword or a bayonet (reports vary). He slashed Hinman’s face and ear with the blade. This began several days of torture. Manson told Beausoleil by phone to kill Hinman and make it look like the work of black revolutionaries. After he stabbed Hinman to death Beausoleil wrote ‘Political piggy’ on the wall with Hinman’s blood. Beausoleil was arrested on August 6, 1969 after falling asleep in Hinman’s fiat which he had taken after the murder. The Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family began on August 8.

Lucifer Resurrected

In 1968 Kenneth Anger travelled to Britain, where he ended up hanging out with the cream of Swinging Sixties entertainers. Eager to get Lucifer Rising back into production, he offered the lead role to Mick Jagger. Jagger declined, but recommended his brother Chris for the role. Soon after shooting restarted however, Anger started having arguments with Chris Jagger and sacked him. Anger met Jimmy Page at a Sotheby’s auction for Aleister Crowley artefacts. Both men were fascinated by Thelema and the Occult, and Page agreed to compose the score for the film. Anger and Page did not have a happy working experience together, and Anger was so incensed with the Led Zeppelin guitarist that he is rumoured to have put a curse on him. This is roughly when Bobby Beausoleil reenters the story of the film’s production.

Beausoleil had experienced some tough and turbulent years in prison. After being found guilty for Hinman’s murder, he was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when the Supreme Court of California ruled that Capital Punishment was unconstitutional in 1972. During his trial and a subsequent sanity hearing for Manson Family members, Beausoleil appeared belligerent and still, it seems, in thrall to Manson.

Truman Capote interviewed Beausoleil at San Quentin prison in 1973 for a one-hour CBS special (which now appears to be lost). Capote’s In Cold Blood had been published in 1966 and quickly became a publishing sensation, but it was not well-known at the time how Capote had manipulated the prisoners at the heart of the story, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, for his own ends. If it had been, perhaps Beausoleil would never have agreed to an interview. History would repeat itself. Beausoleil had the youthful looks and buff jailhouse figure which Capote found very attractive. A transcript of their interview makes for strange reading. Time and again Beausoleil is moved to silence, as though he is wowed by Capote’s formidable intellect. One can’t but wonder if this is how their conversation really played out, or is it merely all part of Capote’s fantasy. Needless to say, it did nothing to rehabilitate Beausoleil in the public’s eyes.

Beausoleil had been transferred to Tracy Prison when he learned that Jimmy Page was no longer involved in Lucifer Rising. He wrote to Anger offering to compose the soundtrack himself which he did over a three-year period with the Freedom Orchestra, musicians made up of his fellow inmates. Recording the score was particularly difficult given that band members would be paroled and transferred to other prisons, and they had restricted access to a small recording studio which had been built with the proceeds of a grant. Nevertheless, Beausoleil’s score perfectly complements the film which by the time it was finally released in 1980, played like a demonic cocktail of the 1960s psychedelia and 1970s fascination with devil worship. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good film, but it is filled with striking imagery, weirdly memorable moments and it almost seems to be anticipating the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Despite Anger’s penchant for falling-out with the people he worked with, there are still appearances by Jagger, Page, Marianne Faithfull and Donald Cammell. Even if you do not enjoy the film, Beausoleil’s score is a haunting and moving piece of music, full of creative and well-judged experimentation, which stands up well on its own.

Reinvention and Redemption

Beausoleil continued to compose and release music throughout the 1980s and the experience appears to have been life-changing for him. He began to increasingly distance himself from the Manson Family. His story about the Hinman murder also began to change. His most consistent account of the murder is that Hinman was killed over a drug deal gone wrong. In this version, Hinman supplied Beausoleil with mescaline to sell to a biker gang called the Straight Satans. But the drugs Hinman provided were sub-par. Fearing retribution from the bikers, Beausoleil confronted Hinman in his home and demanded he provide compensation. They argued and ultimately Hinman was killed. Another story which has spun off from this is that the Manson Family committed the Tate-LaBianca murders two days after Beausoleil’s arrest in an effort to fool the police. ‘Pig’ was written in blood on the front door of 10050 Cielo Drive by Susan Atkins to try and make the LAPD think that Hinman’s murderer was still at large, when in fact Beausoleil was already in custody (remember Beausoleil had written ‘Political piggy’ at the Hinman crime scene). If this story is true (and that’s a big if) it backfired spectacularly. The LAPD only linked the Manson Family to the Tate-LaBianca case once Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office Homicide Detectives informed them of its similarities to the Hinman murder. By trying to help Beausoleil, the Manson Family only ended up incriminating themselves.

When Nicola began work on her documentary, Beausoleil had been recommended for release by the parole board, and she envisaged her film ending with Beausoleil telling his story as a (relatively) free man. However, Governor of California Gavin Newsom reversed the parole board’s decision (as he did more recently with Sirhan Sirhan) and Beausoleil remained incarcerated. The spectre of the Manson Family continues to haunt him. Clearly Manson and his followers’ horrific crimes still cause the families of the victims emotional suffering, and there is no doubt that Beausoleil committed the worst crime of all in taking another man’s life. But perhaps after spending more than fifty years in prison, and working hard to be a constructive member of society from behind bars, it is time he was released. Whatever happens, I do hope Nicola gets to complete her film. The footage I’ve seen so far is excellent. She has audio interviews with Beausoleil, a terrific interview with Kenneth Anger and much more. More importantly though, she has a story which, in all its complexity and mythology, needs to be told.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan permalink
    March 6, 2022 2:10 pm

    Interestingly enough, just the other day someone on an Ellroy Fan Page on Facebook asked about the White Jazz documentary. A number of people, myself included, thought he was confusing it with something else like the Demon Dog documentary since it is so rare and doesn’t even seem to be listed on IMDB.

    • March 6, 2022 5:17 pm

      Hi Dan, Thanks. I was fortunate that Nicola provided me with a copy. I can attest that it is truly brilliant and Ellroy told me it was his favourite of all documentaries that have been made on him. What greater endorsement could you ask for.

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