A Clearer Fate: A Mission To Restore Manos: The Hands of Fate
It is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. Film critics and cinephiles the world over have repeatedly sentenced this film for the bottom of the barrel. That's quite the stigma when your competition includes such infamous "masterpieces" as Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2, Glen or Glenda, Battlefield Earth, Robot Monster, and The Beast of Yucca Flats. For most people, even those of us enrolled in film production courses Manos: The Hands of Fate was either an obscure celluloid urban legend or largely unknown altogether. All that changed when it was seen being mercilessly heckled on an episode of the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000, where it's considered one of the worst movies they've ever teed off on and yet it is looked upon as one of their greatest episodes by the show's fans. The film developed a cult following with many people treating the film's many gaffes and shortcomings as a tremendous source of comedy. Unfortunately the only copies of the film available were of such distorted and degraded quality that it only added (perhaps unfairly) to the film's legendary awfulness.
However, now a film graduate is offering audiences a chance to gain a new perspective to this both vilified and beloved cult film by giving it a restoration treatment usually reserved for the world's greatest of movies. Enter Ben Solovey, who by his own admission just happened upon an online auction by chance or perhaps ... by Fate. The largely ignored auction was for a storage locker in San Diego, which contained many 35mm and 16mm copies of the now defunct film distributor Emerson Films Enterprises, whose movie catalogue had now fallen into public domain. Solovey was interested in obtaining among such trashy classics as The Atomic Brain, Hamlet;Prinz von Dänemark and Manos for his own personal collection. He also noticed there were no bids on this lot. Solovey then contacted the locker's owners intending to obtain at least a few of these forgotten films before someone else realized what was up for sale. Surprisingly, the owners responded and agreed to give him the entire cache just to get the unwanted collection off their hands. Among the newly acquired trove of movies included the original 16mm Ektachrome camera workprint of Manos. He was surprised to find much of the workprint's film was in remarkably good condition and the footage images to be well lit, crisp and with colors not seen in more than 40 years. Solovey then decided that he would attempt to restore the film to its original condition, or as close as possible, using the workprint as his source for the purpose of releasing the cult movie in 2K digital format print for a limited re-release in theater exhibitions and eventually HD for blu-ray for other people's collections. It was a massive undertaking, but he felt that if he didn't do it, no one else would either.
Solovey began a blog on the restoration with the first entry appropriately titled, "Why I'm Saving Manos: The Hands of Fate," which invited people to see updates of the discovery and restoration process of the film. He also hoped the website would be a way to gather interest among fans of the reviled movie and perhaps even raise funds for this labor of love. He was originally looking to raise $10K in order to cover the costs, but was in fact able to raise nearly five times that amount. It is a strong testament that there are fans of the film willing to pay good money to see Manos's restoration come to full fruition. He had the footage professionally cleaned and then digitally removed scratches and other flaws caused from wear and time. He does note that he has no intentions of altering what was originally created in the film's production; only to make the original film as good as it ever was in its original presentation. While this by no means makes the script or performances any better nor hides the film's non-existent production values, it certainly does make the viewing of the footage in and of itself easier to watch. The blog includes many before and after comparisons of the footage shown side-by-side. The differences are not unlike the before and after efforts of an ancient painting's cleaning and restoration in that it's not actually changing the picture but rather making it seen as it originally was, titanic flaws and all.
This past Saturday August 3rd, Manos finally made its restored premiere (albeit still slightly incomplete) in El Paso, Texas. It's the very city where it was filmed and made its original debut back in 1966. More than 300 people showed up, some even taking a page out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show by arriving in replicas of the movie costumes. A different and fully complete version of the film will be expected at the August 16th national screening with a big difference. Its screening is presented by "RiffTrax Live!" and will feature commentary from cast members from MST3K. This showing offers to present audiences with most likely of manner in which they became familiar with Manos in the first place, and still get to enjoy the results of the restoration efforts.
It's interesting how the film industry takes such steps to preserve what it might consider "great" movies. We have Criterion Editions, Director's Cut, Extended Versions, Restorations, Anniversary Editions and all sorts of extra features that were at one time reserved for the cream of the crop. But in recent years it has become commonplace to give that special treatment seemingly to random movies that come down the pipeline whether they necessarily deserve the extra attention or not, and usually for the purpose of profit over actual art preservation. Arguably, many other more worthy films that desperately need restoration have gone overlooked. Now we have one such effort for what many consider the top of the junk heap. It is perhaps for the reasons that it is both a well loved and a well-acknowledged cinematic abomination from its fans that its salvation occurred. One wonders how well preserved our motion picture archives could be if the same effort of love and care were put into all such endeavors by the studios as Ben Solovey has put into Manos's preservation.
Something Awful: "The Goon Who Saved Manos"
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode #424 "Manos: The Hands of Fate"
Film School Rejects Interview with Ben Solovey Episode #115 (Time Marker 16:00 to 24:00)
You Tube Manos in HD Channel (Collective Works)