It was mid afternoon on one of May’s gloomier days when I sat back, coffee in hand, to watch Life After Manson, a new short film directed by Olivia Klaus. I was fully expecting more of the same kind of dramatic hype about the Manson Family. Shots of Charles Manson and plenty of close-ups of his crazy eyes with a swastika in the middle. Slow motion cuts from stock footage of bald headed women in the courtroom, maybe even Helter Skelter playing in the back ground. Instead I was met with the sad, bespectacled eyes of a woman who looks like she could be someone’s mother. Or sweet grandmother. Someone who looks like she’d bring a crock pot full of Little Smokies and hot coco to a tailgate party. The lines on her face were deep. Her voice was soft and gentle as she said, “It’s so impossible to even think that so much disaster, comes from such a simple thing as wanting to be loved.” This woman is Patricia Krenwinkle, who at the age of 21, brutally murdered three people under orders from infamous Charles Manson and is now serving a life sentence at the California Institution for Women.
I had the opportunity to interview director Olivia Klaus about Life After Manson and how she came to know one of the most notorious criminals in American history.
“I met Patricia 12 years ago when I started volunteering at the California Institution for Women. At the time I knew her as ‘Krenny’.” explained Klaus, “She was one who always kept to the side and kept very quiet. So when she spoke, everyone listened. She had a lot of wisdom and you could tell she was a mentor to the other women there. It was about 5 years into my volunteer work that another inmate revealed that her name was Patricia Krenwinke. My jaw dropped. I had read Helter Skelter and I knew the story of the Manson Family. So there was this turmoil inside where where I knew this amazing woman, Krenny, who was a mentor to the others vs. the woman I know as Patricia Krenwinkle. It was definitely a shock.”
Klaus was not out to give us yet another formulaic account of the Manson Family murders that we have all heard and seen before. Instead, she simply allows Krenwinkle to peel back the layers on an event that has irrevocably changed her life.
“She was a nice woman. A kind woman. A quiet woman. You could see in the lines on her face that she had a lot of turmoil going on within herself. This is a woman who has changed. This is a woman who is different. This is a woman who is kind, who is gentle. It’s amazing to see how far she has come. From such darkness to now standing on her own two feet, thinking her own thoughts. Society hasn’t seen this in her because, understandably so, society is obsessed with her crimes. So it was interesting for me to finally be able to show a different side to the story. This is an opportunity for people to see the other side [of Patricia Krenwinkle]. The perspective that she has, and her trying to pick up the pieces of her very broken life. This transformation, I think it’s a beautiful tragedy.”
Because of the unique friendship kindled between director and subject, Krenwinkle speaks plainly and honestly, and through never before seen footage, we see a woman who struggles day to day by a past that haunts her. The daily struggle is palpable, yet she exudes love and light in her mentoring to her fellow inmates. Through Klaus’s lens, the public gets to see the real Patricia Krenwinkle. A Patricia Krenwinkle that until now, has never been revealed. That is what makes Life After Manson so special. Klaus doesn’t stray into side stories about Manson. She doesn’t sensationalize what has been sensationalized time and time again. Her focus is held on Krenwinkle and she lets her tell her story on her own terms. Possibly for the first time ever. 45 years after the crime, what Life After Manson offers is refreshing. Can we forgive someone who did something so unforgivable? Are people really capable of change? Looking back on when we were young and the foolish things we did for love, is it possible to identify with this woman on some level? These are the questions that Life After Manson stirred in me.
“Change can happen.” Klaus explains. “She is a totally different person and that really is what I wanted to show in this film. The other side. The side that no one understands until now.”
Life After Manson sheds light on the woman, not the killer and this short film beautifully reveals the humanity of someone who was once so inhumane. We see that perhaps Patricia Krenwinkle is, tragically, just as much of a victim as those she murdered over four decades ago.
For more information on Life After Manson, including the directors statement and screening schedule, please visit www.lifeaftermanson.com. Life After Manson premiered at Tribeca in Spring 2014 and is now traveling the festival circuit.
You can find more about the director and film at www.theaudienceawards.com.