Monday, April 28, 2008

Manos: The Hands of Fate and the Necessity of Awful Films

One of the most amusing moments in my college career concerned one of my English professors and his frustration over a key scene in Dead Poet's Society. The scene in question was the one in which teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) tells his students to rip out the introduction of their English textbooks, for he views it as a poor example of writing. When I asked the professor why he took this particular scene to task, he told me that it was just as important to analyze poor writing as it was to analyze excellent writing. Otherwise, how could we have a full appreciation of the greatest works of literature if we did not have substandard writing to compare it to?

Ever since that theory was first presented to me, I have come to accept it as a logical practice. And the world of film can be greater appreciated by applying this practice to the medium. Which is exactly why I have always suggested to my friends and fanatical devotees of film that the film (and I use that term quite loosely) Manos: The Hands of Fate is required viewing. Since its severely limited release in 1966, the film has been widely hailed as one of the worst films ever created; and honestly, the film has truly earned this moniker.

The plot, which involves a couple staying the night in a sinister-looking house, only to be attacked by a devilish cult, is preposterous. The actual development of the film was also very poor; the film was completely shot with a hand-held camera that could only film for approximately 30 seconds at a time, and resulted in the film being one of the most poorly edited features ever shot. In addition, the entire audio track of the film was overdubbed by only three people. The acting didn't salvage the film either; not only does the audio track poorly match the actual individuals in the scene, but it also appears the actors have no concept as to how one emotes in a tense situation. Many people try to claim that Plan 9 From Outer Space and the rest of Ed Wood's filmography should be considered among the worst films ever made; but in all honesty many of those films are highly entertaining. Manos is such a failure of a film that it is actually monotonous and quite painful to watch.

With that said, I truly believe anyone who admires the art of film should consider it required viewing. Not only does it stand as the awful movie against which all other awful movies must be compared, but it will also compel you to notice the beauty in wonderfully crafted films. The way the shower scene is edited in Psycho will never look more fantastic until you have seen the poor editing of the nauseating driving sequence at the beginning of the film. The virtuoso tracking shots of the best Scorsese films will be even more breathtaking after experiencing the the abyssmal framing of the shots throughout the film. The legendary performances in a film like Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia will never seem as masterful as they will after watching John Reynolds in his cringe-worthy performance as the satyr Torgo in the film.

I have since developed the opinion that viewing a true failure of a film will train one to focus on the construction of a film more intensely, and develop an even healthier respect for film as an art form. To provide an artistic comparison, would one truly recognize the brilliance in the works of Van Gogh if they had never seen a poorly conceived piece of art? I believe that it is doubtful. As a society, we all can recognize that some things are inherently beautiful; however, we have a greater perception with beauty when we are exposed to something that is truly heinous and grotesque. We cannot fully appreciate the wonders of love without having been exposed to the horrors of hate. We cannot truly enjoy the fruits of laughter as much without ever having experienced the pains of sadness. By this rationale, we also cannot exalt brilliant, masterful works of film without having been exposed to truly awful examples of the form.

It is no secret that having to suffer through a truly bad film is a considerably frustrating and disgusting task; I felt intensely uncomfortable last year as I suffered through the horrors of Hannibal Rising and Happily N'Ever After. But the miserable experience of viewing such films made me even more appreciative when I viewed films like Juno and No Country for Old Men months later. Therefore, to those who share my love and passion for the beautiful form that is film, I implore you to expose yourself to the horror that is Manos: The Hands of Fate. Just remember to view it with extreme caution...

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