When the general public hears about Jay Sebring, it’s almost always as a sort of afterthought in the story of the Manson Family murders. As the new documentary “Jay Sebring….Cutting to the Truth” points out, the Manson Family victims of August 9, 1969, are generally listed as Sharon Tate and “others,” with Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent lumped together under that dismissive label.
With “Cutting to the Truth,” Las Vegas filmmaker Anthony DiMaria, Sebring’s nephew, attempts to provide his uncle with the kind of full, complex biography that’s rarely accorded to murder victims, especially those targeted by notorious killers like Charles Manson. As DiMaria points out, there have been countless books, movies, and TV shows about Manson, but “Cutting to the Truth” is the first one about Sebring.
This is obviously a personal project for DiMaria, who was only a small child when his uncle died but retains strong memories of the man he loved. DiMaria spent years working on “Cutting to the Truth,” and the effort shows: This isn’t just a small-scale family affair, although DiMaria interviews his own parents (his mother is Sebring’s sister) and other family members.
Before being reduced to a statistic in the Manson saga, Sebring was a pioneering hairstylist who worked with nearly every major male star of the 1960s, and DiMaria lands big names like Quincy Jones, Robert Wagner, Paul Anka, and Nancy Sinatra, among others, for interviews in the film. It’s clear how long DiMaria spent working on the movie when Dominick Dunne and Dennis Hopper show up, talking about their friendships with Sebring, in footage captured before their deaths more than a decade ago.
It’s not just the big-name interviewees that mark “Cutting to the Truth” as an impressive production. DiMaria effectively weaves together interviews, archival material, and onscreen graphics to tell the story of his uncle’s life, from Sebring’s days growing up in Michigan to his stint in the Navy to his efforts to establish an entirely new brand of men’s hairstyling in Los Angeles. The movie makes a strong case for Sebring as an important style innovator, possibly the first person to treat men’s hairstyling with the same creativity and dedication (and price) as women’s hairstyling. Among other achievements, Sebring created Jim Morrison’s iconic look from the early days of The Doors, and styled Kirk Douglas’ hair for “Spartacus.” Fashion icons including Vidal Sassoon and Fred Segal praise Sebring’s skills in the film.
DiMaria paints a full picture of Sebring as a complex human being, delving into his personal relationships with family and significant others (including Tate, whom Sebring dated before she married Roman Polanski) along with his professional accomplishments. DiMaria rehabilitates the image that the media created of Sebring as a deviant and a coward in the initial weeks following the murders, and in the process, he delivers a strong statement about the treatment of all high-profile murder victims. Sebring is getting his movie thanks to his connection to celebrities and the dedication of his nephew, but most victims of notorious murderers aren’t afforded the same treatment.
DiMaria also interviews Quentin Tarantino, who created one of the only multi-dimensional portrayals of Sebring onscreen in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which Sebring was played by Emile Hirsch. “Once Upon a Time” is clearly an important catalyst for “Cutting to the Truth” finally being completed and reaching an audience, but of course in its way it’s just another sensationalized treatment of the Manson murders. DiMaria understands the prurient interest that may draw viewers to stories like this, but once he has their attention, he presents them with a thorough, heartfelt tribute to his uncle’s life and talent.
“Jay Sebring….Cutting to the Truth” is available on September 22 on all major VOD platforms.