If you’ve ever wanted a very crisp video clip of The Chantays performing “Pipeline” ... if you’ve wondered what Pere Ubu’s Dave Thomas thinks of the Beach Boys’ version of “Sloop John B” ... if you’ve been consumed with curiosity about how Kim Fowley would describe the year 1965 in song ... you may find this DVD most satisfactory. On the other hand, if you seek insight into the connection between “America’s Band” and cult leader Charles Manson, this film will be as confounding as its title.
The Beach Boys and The Satan is an hour-long German documentary from 1997 that devotes most of its running time to a compressed history of Brian Wilson and the band, from their earliest “surf music with vocals,” through the collapse of the original Smile album, to Wilson’s return to recording and performing. The film’s premise of the Beach Boys’ rise and decline as an allegory for the progression of California youth culture from Beach Blanket Bingo innocence to post-psychedelic burnout is a promising approach to recounting now-familiar stories. Through predominantly well-chosen clips (although the Pulp Fiction footage set to Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” is jarringly out of context) and interviews, director Christoph Dreher successfully capsulizes an era while offering some unusual perspective on the times and the music.
Reg Shaw’s observation that in 1967 the music scene experienced a massive influx of people who didn’t belong establishes the context in which Charles Manson was able to insinuate himself into the Beach Boys’ world. It’s also the point at which the film goes off the rails with a brief account of Manson’s sordid life, including gruesome footage of the Tate-LaBianca murder scene, up to Manson’s current incarceration. Despite the inclusion of intriguing background on California’s Satanic sub-culture, Dreher fails to establish a credible connection between the disparate elements he introduces, making “The Satan” portion of the film seem awkwardly grafted onto a completely different film.