Manos: A Phenomenon of Ephemera – Act III

SiW now presents the strange and wonderful history of a film entitled Manos: The Hands of Fate. The story unfolds in 3 acts. 

A poster for a puppet production of Manos.

Act III – The Reincarnation

The Twist of Fate

Once Manos had found its way back into the collective consciousness by way of MST3K, a strange (and perhaps wonderful) thing happened: it became popular. In the age of the internet, any piece of irrelevant popular culture can find a core of fans who appreciate it. While many simply used the film as a cliched example of a bad film, others began to view the film as tragically misunderstood. They started referring to the film as an object lesson on the difficulty of film making rather than the hubris of an amateur. A fascination with the film was slowly growing out of universal disdain.

Various admiring theater troupes performed interpretations of the film’s story during the early 2000’s which included musicals and puppets. Indie video games were even produced and distributed which were set in the world of Manos.

In November of 2008, a small crew produced a documentary about the making of Manos and called it Hotel Torgo (watch it here on YouTube). This 27 minute project gained some notoriety for attempting to excavate the particulars of the 1966 production, but further examination of the facts revealed many inaccuracies in the documentary. Specifically, the producers declared a few of the actors to be deceased when, in actuality, they were alive and well. Diane Mahree, for example, was said to have been killed in a car accident in the 80’s, but was actually still working as a successful model. Still, the release of this production kept the cult of Manos alive and fueled a curiosity about the history of the film.

A poster for the sequel project.
Recently, there were rumblings that a fan of the film was attempting to put together a crew to film an actual sequel to the original. Rupert Talbot Munch, Sr. attended the 2008 Comic-Con in costume as Torgo. While there, he decided to stay in character throughout the event and found himself hobnobbing with MST3K alums and meeting many fans of Manos as well. Soon after, in a scene eerily similar to Hal Warren at the diner in 1966, Munch was dared to attempt a sequel to Manos and he accepted the challenge. Munch set about trying to track down the original cast of the film in hopes of convincing them to reprise their roles in his sequel: Manos: The Search for Valley Lodge. Remarkably, he located and recruited a number of them including Tom Neyman (The Master), Jackie Raye Neyman-Jones (the daughter) and Diane Mahree (the wife). Hal Warren’s son Joe agreed to reprise the role his father played in the film. Munch then cast a number of D-list actors and WWE wrestlers in supporting roles and the shooting is currently underway with a 2013 release date in mind. Who would have thought that one of the most universally derided films of the past century would see a sequel 50 years later?

Then, in late 2011, something even more remarkable happened. A film buff named Ben Solovey was perusing a lot of 16mm and 35mm prints that were for sale. The films were mostly of MST3K-worthy drive-in fodder, but he was told that a copy of Manos was included as well. He decided that he would like to own this piece of ephemera and purchased the lot of films. Upon returning home and examining his merchandise, he found the copy of Manos to be in the same degraded quality as all known copies were. But as he dug further into his boxes, he discovered another copy of Manos and this one was marked “workprint”. It even bore a label with a different title: Fingers of Fate. Ben knew he had something unique here.

It turns out that this 16mm print was one of the originals created from the shoot and copies had been made on 35mm film and copied from that for distribution to theaters. Audiences were seeing a 3rd generation copy right away, which is why the quality was so bad. Worse still, the copies distributed today are VHS copies of the 3rd generation copy. 

By comparison, Solovey’s workprint looked pristine and he realized that he had a rare oppurtunity here. The opportunity to restore the film and create a high definition rendering on Blu-Ray. He shared his story on a forum on the web and received a lot of positive feedback, so he built a website to get the word out, post scans of the workprint to show the quality and raise some funds to get the project off the ground. When he put the project up on Kickstarter he asked for $10,000 with any funds exceeding that amount going to recording a commentary track, producing a new documentary and other wish-list features. The goal was met in 2 days and now over $24,000 has been raised for this project! Solovey is pledging to do this project right and produce a release that all fans of Manos will be amazed by.

So it appears that 2012 will be the year that Hal Warren’s vanity project comes full circle with a sequel starring original cast members and a high definition Blu-Ray release of the original film in its original “glory”.

In this digital age, it seems that nothing will ever really die. Long forgotten films, music albums and books are constantly finding new audiences that appreciate them. Before, it was easy for these bits of ephemera to turn to dust, but no longer. Even things that probably deserve to be forgotten are being polished up and lovingly enshrined by a new generation. There is now a sense that nothing ever deserves to be forgotten. There is a philosophy that no matter how bad the art is, it must not be discarded, for there may come a time when someone will see beauty in it. When someone will find it worthy of display. When someone will choose to spend years crafting an tribute to it. When hundreds of people will pitch in to help bring it back to life.

So while Manos can hardly be called “good art” in and of itself, I find the arc of its existence to be strangely beautiful. And yes, I will probably purchase a copy of the restored film.



One thought on “Manos: A Phenomenon of Ephemera – Act III

  1. Pingback: 300 Posts in 13 Years | Stargazing in Winter

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