It wasn’t until the day I interviewed Jackey Neyman Jones and Tom Neyman in Oregon that I flipped over one of the few surviving set photographs and saw the name “Anselm Spring” stamped on the back. Despite the number of names (both real and fake) used to pad out the credits, his does not appear on the film. Just who was this person, and how’d he end up being the unknown set photographer on Manos: The Hands of Fate?
A quick internet search did, in fact, yield one German-born artist and musician with that name. What’s more, a very talented, prolific, wanderlust-y artist. An artist that lives today on top of a mesa in Utah, in a house he built with a wood fired stove in one room and a modern recording booth in the next. His studio, as I would find, was a proving ground for bold mixed media pieces large enough to cover most walls. The question still remained: how’d this future iconoclast, this eccentric-and-proud man of the world, get from Germany to the set of this film with a Pentax Spotmatic in tow?
The answer to that question takes us back to the Cold War. As the West (and with it, West Germany) developed a new arsenal of air defense weapons, many were tested in the field at El Paso’s Fort Bliss. 23 year old Anselm Spring was stationed there as an interpreter when an acquaintance, the owner of a local photo shop, recommended him to the production. Seeing in Mr. Spring both a germ of talent and the prospect of free labor, Harold Warren brought him into the Manos family. Anselm’s assignment wasn’t easy: with the bulk of the movie filmed at night, a limited number of harsh movie lights on the set were his only source of exposure.
After filming wrapped, Anselm turned in the best photos to the production company- none of which satisfied him, he says- and began to experiment with the leftovers, carefully charring slides with an open flame to create dramatic swaths of decay. Though many of his set photos would ultimately be lost, two “rejects” would survive, repurposed and submitted on a whim to Popular Photography Magazine. And so, images of Torgo and The Master found themselves in Anselm Spring’s first published work… though when we first talked, he couldn’t be sure which issue.
Long story short: I found myself in the public library on a long California afternoon, jolted by the familiar faces of Torgo and The Master flashing by in negative on a microfilm reader, flanked on each side by cute vintage camera ads. Above them, a headline: “ANSELM M. SPRING: HE HAS PICTURES TO BURN”. One trip to eBay later, and I had the full-color April 1967 issue in my hands.
Anselm credits this featured article, plus his subsequent friendship with a German-born, El Paso raised “military brat”, teenage model and future actress Susan Blakely, as instrumental in bringing him out of his shell and starting his career as a photographer and artist. However, having missed the premiere, he’d never seen the finished film until the day I visited his mesa. Mr. Spring’s blunt, off-the-cuff, yet articulate reactions to the film, as well as the sudden flood of memories it brought on, made for a remarkable and energetic interview. He even picked up his guitar and improvised a ditty that could just as easily apply to everyone on the cast and crew:
Manos: The Hands of Fate
I never, never ever got paid
(for the photographs I did)
Though he likes to insist that the film has little to no artistic value, Anselm seems to regard with affection that chain of events in 1966 that led him to his favorite means of expression. He has since updated his biography on his website to include the film- a meaningful acknowledgement from an uncompromising artist.
This is the one interview that I wasn’t sure I’d get to do. The mysterious Diane Adelson (“Mahree” is her middle name, which she elected to act under) went on to a long modeling career in Europe after playing (but not voicing) Margaret. Today, she values her privacy and only occasionally uses the internet. Living comfortably in Colorado and dealing in antiques, she has only more recently made herself known, traveling to Nashville for the Rifftrax Live Show and reconnecting with the friends and family of the cast. Once again, we owe Jackey Neyman Jones a debt for her invaluable, and tactful, help in introducing us to Diane.
Not only did Diane sit down with us in her home for an on-camera interview over the course of a day, she proved herself to be a witty and fascinating individual. Her interview paints a picture of a precocious young woman possessing a surplus of integrity, who approached Manos as she did everything else: with a sense of adventure, a committed attitude, and a healthy amount of humor.
Despite the fact that Diane did not want to make a career out of acting, and even though her role is very, very underwritten, her game approach to some of the most bizarre material in Manos never fails to leave a strong impression. I’m glad we’ll be telling her story.
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.