Manos was considered an instant classic from its first broadcast on Mystery Science Theater 3000 - when it was screened at the Mystery Science Theater 3000 CoventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo in 1999, everyone clearly knew it by heart - but the film keeps inspiring people to new heights of weirdness even outside of the MST3K. There have been at least two live productions that I'm aware of, one of which was by Last Rites Productions in Portland all the way back in 2006...
...and another all the way back in 2013 by Capital I Productions, also in Portland.
But what if you were in the Pacific Northwest, but didn't want to see Manos: The Hands of Fate performed by humans? You got thee to Seattle for Manos: The Hands of Felt, that's what you did. And if you missed that, it's coming to DVD and Amazon Instant Video soon.
Still, I know you kids these days, with your hula hoops and your chocolate sodas and your hand-held personal electronic entertainment mechanisms. If it doesn't involve moving your thumbs and/or shooting things, you don't wanna know about it. So, fine. Play the Manos: The Hands of Fate video game. See if I care.
This is a strangely fertile time for Manos: The Hands of Fate - I'm writing this to the kickin' sounds of Manos: The Remix of Fate, a collection of remixes of the Manos soundtrack Mr. Solovey sourced from the workprint - and all the more prefect for the restoration to be released upon a clearly willing world.
I asked Mr. Solovey what the most satisfying part of the project has been. He replied, "To watch the film, with no special comedic accompaniment, alongside a crowd in El Paso. Murmurs of recognition, gasps at the time capsule-like views of the local scenery, plenty of groans, and steadily growing laughter as the awkward silences in the film became funnier than any joke. We played right after Rocky Horror, so there were several appropriately-dressed people in the audience with us. Afterward, I met an elderly couple who had actually attended the premiere back in 1966. They said the picture looked better in our restoration, which was the highest compliment we could have hoped for."
From back when it didn't look so good.
What about the most frustrating part? "As you'd expect, facing up to our limitations along the way has sometimes been frustrating. The fact that the film elements survived at all is incredible, but the damage was often beyond the capability of the restoration tech we could afford. The final budget, minus the inherent costs of Kickstarter, was enough to create a proper retail release if we stretched it, but by a distributor like Synapse's standards it was downright scant. I elected to go for it anyway because I figured this film had just this one shot at a proper retail release, and enough people interested now to make it worthwhile. Everyone I hired to work on the restoration got paid for their labor from the Kickstarter budget, including the editor handling the supplements.
"To save money and time, I learned how to use the restoration software myself, though I left the most prominent fixes to an expert acquaintance. Watching it today, I only see the flaws that we had to leave in, or the less-than-perfect fixes from our slightly-dated restoration tech. Still, the film has become much more watchable and, most importantly, the audience responds to it in a big way."
Since I had to pause on nearly every shot while making the subtitles, little details that I'd never noticed popped out at me. (And, again, it helps that we're seeing much more of the picture than ever before.) Way up on that list for me is the beer bottle in Torgo's room. It just seems to explain everything, doesn't it? Mr. Solovey said that one of his favorite details is also in Torgo's room: "The unused Wife's dress hanging next to a rope on the wall. I concluded that the dress was intended for Margaret, and the rope was intended for Michael. When I ran that theory by [costume designer, art director, and "The Master"] Tom Neyman, he thought about it and said that 'We probably just thought the wall looked too bare.'"
Where to go now? I asked Mr. Solovey what his dream restoration project would be, inasmuch as anything could top Manos. "My first dream restoration is a secret, just in case I actually get to do it. My second dream project would be a 3D Blu-ray of Robot Monster. It's not in the public domain, and I know some experts in the 3D arena who would love to be involved in fixing it up, but so far there's no sign that the rights-holders consider it a worthwhile venture. Normally, I think 3D is more fun to shoot than it is to watch, but Robot Monster is a completely different film when seen in 3D: the use of depth is very experimental and highly entertaining."
We wouldn't be talking about Manos: The Hands of Fate at all if one Harold P. Warren hadn't been determined to make a movie, and we thank him for that. Now that he probably knows Manos better than even Warren ever did, what piece of advice would Mr. Solovey give him?
"To keep making films. I'd definitely watch them."
Previously by Sherilyn Connelly: