Something you’ll notice if you’ve previously watched Manos on video is the very abrupt beginning of the film. While the MST3K version starts with a shot of the family driving by in their car, the public domain version (which likely originated from an independent VHS distributor’s 16mm transfer) starts a few moments later with the car already parked on an overlook. Neither of these is in fact the beginning of the film, although the MST version comes closest.
In fact the first shot of the film, present on both the work print and the uncut release print, is a fade up on a view of 1966 El Paso from the overlook, followed by a pan right that takes in the full scene and stops on the city. It’s accompanied on the release print by an earlier start to the musical score.
Not an incredibly startling revelation out of context, but it gives us a bit more of that distinctive musical score to enjoy, and it does confirm that the movie has no opening credits, no copyright information and not even a production company logo before the title card several minutes in.
Above are a few frames from the first 35mm film-out test, straight from the lab. This five-minute selection of scenes serve the purpose of testing out our color density, grain and sound levels for accuracy before the final output. So far I’ve checked it through a loupe and have found it very helpful, but in a few days I’ll be seeing how it holds up on the big screen.
Here is the width of these five minutes of film:
It’s easy to forget, with the way digital currently dominates our landscape, that any movie ever made or shown on film has a very real weight and substance to it. Holding it you are immediately struck by the feel, the texture, and even the faint scent from the chemistry that made it possible to do this.
If you wonder whether it’s excessive to do a film-out for Manos, consider for a moment the alternative. Currently, there is no guaranteed solution for long-term storage of digital assets, only various systems of copying and recopying precious data. On the other hand, polyester-based film stocks can keep an image stable for over a century. Though you’d be hard pressed to see film projected in the multiplex today, major studios still rely on it for the shelf-stable storage of their product.
The work that we’ve accomplished here- for what is by all accounts a very neglected film- is something to be proud of. Preserving not only the movie, but the work we’ve done on it, necessitates a film out. And if you’re a backer of this project, your name in the restoration credits will also be there for as long as Manos continues to survive.
Though a 2K DCP of Manos has already been made to enable easy projection in today’s digital cinemas, and there’s nothing at all wrong with enjoying it that way, there’s something truly special about watching it projected traditionally. Here’s hoping that as many people as possible get the chance.