The importance of telling untold narratives


How do you sum up a life in 27 minutes?

It’s impossible. Lives are built up of too many stories to condense them all into a singular narrative. Then how do you choose which story to tell?

You pick a person. You research them. You realize that no one is the measure of what the general public considers their most interesting part. You set aside the story everyone else has told. You write something new.

That’s what Glenn Pack, University of North Carolina Wilmington film professor and director, did with his latest short film “no name Maddox.” I saw the 27 minute long film at the Longleaf Film Festival last May and was completely enthralled with his narrative about a priest in 1949 trying to help a 14-year-old Charles Manson, then known as Charlie.

The entire narrative is true, which seemed unthinkable. It paints Manson as a shy, abandoned boy looking for a place to belong, a portrait extremely different than the Manson usually shown.

Recently, I talked to Pack about how he decided to take a character like Charles Manson, whom so many people have written about purely in relation to his cult, and show this different side of him. Pack said that he had been interested in this point in Charlie’s life since high school. He found George Powers, the priest, “even more interesting than Manson is.”

The research alone took him two years. He turned up every bit of Powers’ life that he could. He did his research on Manson, but kept in mind that the film was not to be about Manson. The intention was for the film to really be about Powers, and it is.

Last weekend I saw “no name Maddox” again at the Footcandle Film Festival with Pack’s words in mind. I realized then that perhaps the best part of the film—what makes it work so well as a film dealing with Charlie Manson, not Charles Manson—is that it’s told from Powers’ perspective. We see Charlie as he does, a kid who has gotten off track but still shows potential to be good. We see the side of Charlie that no one knows existed.

Of course, there are people who don’t care about this story, which is incredibly different than the story they expect. Pack told me most of the criticism for “no name Maddox” has been people who leave disappointed.

“They wanted it to be the Manson that they know,” Pack said. But that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell. “Everyone has done the murders to death.” Then he laughed. “No pun intended.”

Quentin Tarantino’s next project is about Charles Manson, which is good news for anyone who wants the Manson Family saga done over again. After all, Tarantino has quite the reputation for writing bloodbaths. I’m guessing his film isn’t going to be about the mistreated kid who was, in Pack’s words, “so unwanted he wasn’t even given a name.” Most likely, Tarantino’s narrative will be nothing new.

Maybe one day Hollywood will realize that the stories no one tells are the stories that matter most. But for now, 27 minutes is enough.

Catch “no name Maddox” and other great indie films at the Indigo Moon Film Festival in Fayetteville Oct. 13-15.