The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988)

All the big things I should have done by now, but I was so busy doing little things. I wonder how many other people are out there? Writing stories and scripts that nobody else may ever read, making movies that nobody may ever see... discovering secrets, important things that could help everybody. Maybe I shouldn't make movies for a living... I could deliver Steve's pizzas...

If we could live on hopes and wishes, make movies at the speed of thought, all the movies that could have been, all the dreams that I could spin...

One of the things about being a movie lover is that you get a interest in the art of movie making. It's always interesting to learn how certain scenes were filmed, what kind of camera techniques were used, and how certain visual effects are pulled off.

I think Jurassic Park was the last presently-released film where I was genuinely interested in its special effects. It seems nowadays that questions like these are mainly answered with three simple letters: C-G-I. Lower-tech movies made before the era of green screens and naming 3D computer animators in the end credits are much more fascinating to me. Movies like The Black Hole, Tron, Flash Gordon, Terry Gilliam's "Trilogy of Imagination", even The Thief and the Cobbler with its complex animation sequences. I've seen more breath-taking shots in those movies than I ever have in a million films that use superimposed backgrounds to save themselves buying a shooting permit.

Mike Jittlov could tell you a thing or two about the buisness of show. A math-language graduate out of UCLA who took animation as an art requirement, Jittlov made many films involving stop motion animation, rotoscoping and pixilation throughout the 70s, which won him many accolades and got him a job as an animator at the Disney studio. One of his most famous creations was the Mickey Mouse satellite that was first seen when the Disney Channel launched in 1983. He later went on to do special effects on several fan films as well as the 1990 Patrick Swayze film Ghost.

To understand his only feature-length directorial effort The Wizard of Speed and Time, you must first get to know another film--a three-minute film Jittlov made in 1979 with the same title:

This film was shown on a Hollywood special effects episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" that was made to coincide with their release of The Black Hole. Science fiction conventions across the country screened the film for years afterward, and its popularity convinced Jittlov to write, produce, direct and star in this feature, a faux behind-the-scenes account of the making of this short with bits and pieces slightly exaggerated for comedic and satirical effect.


It all began in Hollywood in the far off year of 1977 ("and maybe another dimension") where big-shot producer Harvey Bookman of Nameless Dreamcrusher Studios (played by Richard Kaye--the producer of this film, ironically enough) and director Lucky Straeker (The Giant Spider Invasion's Steve Brodie in his final film appearance) are putting together a show about special effects filmmakers. Lucky seems interested in this one as-yet unknown independent filmmaker named Mike Jittlov, and contacts him at his mother's house where he works in the company of robots, wind-up toys and other menagerie to ask him to bring in a demo reel, but Bookman throughout remains convinced that Mike can't make movies since he's just an effects guy whom nobody's ever heard of. The two of them eventually decide to hire him, but with a catch--Lucky has placed a bet of $25,000 that Mike CAN make a film that they can use in their show.

The film contains a great deal of satire regarding the Hollywood movie machine. A second job offer at a rival TV production doesn't pan out as they refuse to hire Mike when they find out he's freelance and insists that he join a union. What follows is a brief montage where Mike is sent from one union office to another, dealing with union representatives all played by the same guy (Disney voice actor Will Ryan) and getting swamped with regulations, paperwork and fees.

"Nobody gets into the Union! Not nobody, not no how!"

And of course, Bookman is the evil Hollywood executive who's made a bet that he hopes will enable him to use the phrase "you'll never work in this town again", so naturally he attempts to sabotage Mike's production any way he can--not giving him the use of his soundstages or lighting or even paying him until the film is finished. Thus Mike has to rely on his friends to help him shoot, sell most of his possessions to raise his own film budget, scrounge empty film cans from studio dumpsters and shoot an entire full-size stop motion sequence in his garage in the middle of a rainstorm.

Bookman, at a screening of his film, in which he is singing and surrounded by film cans, walking camera tripods and a carnivorous clapper board, asks Mike and company the next day to do a second special effects sequence with location shots and plenty of girls by Friday, and then hires two thugs who talk like Cheech Marin and either Doug or Bob Mackenzie to dress as policemen (or Keystone Kops, to be precise) and hassle them, knowing that Mike's crew don't have the time to get shooting permits. Along the way they steal a police car belonging to Tubbs from Miami Vice, unaware that there's a police dog in the back seat.

Jeez, does this guy hate independent productions so much that he'd actually go to such lengths to sink a guy's homemade film before it's even in the can? I mean, I know they have torpedoed ideas in the past with focus groups, target demographics and time slots opposite the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, but actual production sabotage? I've heard of Screwed by the Network, but WOW.

"Cheech and Canuck" did not test well early on.

Location shooting proves difficult in a humorous scene involving a police helicopter chase at Griffiths Park that turns into a citywide manhunt, while the actress problem kinda takes care of itself--Mike meets an actress named Cindy (Paige Moore) while meeting with Bookman on another of his more calamitous productions for the upcoming special, with fog machines blaring at random and crew members walking off the set in frustration. Lucky for Mike, Bookman finds out about her work on his film and fires her for breach of contract, and she's brought some friends along as well.

Oh yeah, and it's around this time in the movie that the two of them fall in love.

"Joke's on you, Hollywood! I got ALL your film cans! Good luck storing your film reels NOW!"

Finally the film is complete, and Mike must get it down to the studio, but without a car or an electrified bicycle or any other means of transportation, he is forced to ride his camera dolly all the way to Bookman's office, and thus another chase scene ensues with the fake police officers, the REAL police officers whose car they stole, a Woody Allen impersonator (or maybe that IS Woody Allen, I dunno) and the set of a prison escape movie.

And after all of this, Bookman takes the film and exits without even giving him the check. This makes Mike so angry that he crashes a party at Bookman's house demanding to be paid and then gets thrown in a swimming pool, actually holding his breath at the bottom for an entire two minutes until he gets his money.

So he does his own stunts as well.

In the end, Mike eventually gets his money, Bookman loses the bet and also his job, and the big night arrives. The gang put up flyers and advertise on the moon, but on the night of the premiere:

So what effect is this? Does the presidential seal explode or what?

A preemptive speech from the President slowly clears the room as the commander-in-chief drones on and on and on. A discouraged Mike starts burning boxes of film until Cindy takes him for a drive to clear his head. Luckily for Mike, the President finally stops talking just in time to show his film--a recreation of his original 1979 short to accommodate for casting changes and such. Fast motion, stop motion, visual effects and men in green jackets galore, plus a few inspiring subliminal messages inserted for those of you watching the film on a QuickTime file or any media player that lets you advance one frame at a time.

Not much to the rest of the film after that. Mike and Cindy kiss, they're greeted by a crowd in a movie theater who must have just watched the film and sing their congratulations to him, and then the credits roll.

The only way to travel.

The Wizard of Speed and Time is a rare insight into the mind of a director/producer/actor/special effects man. (To give you some idea of how rare it is, the movie was finished in 1983, spent several years in distribution hell and is nowhere to be found on DVD). Not unlike Thief and the Cobbler or Terry Gilliam's films, it's clearly a labor of love that shows dedication to the filmmaker's craft. It's satirical, it's whimsical, and its extensive use of Jittlov's famous visual effects inject a bit of comic energy into the whole affair.

Some films where the stars write AND direct can turn into an ego trip for the filmmaker--he always gets the best parts, everybody kisses up to his character, and the whole plot revolves around him. This film doesn't do that. This isn't a movie about Jittlov making movies, it's a movie about making movies--that anyone with a camera and an idea can go out there and tell the story s/he wants to tell. Especially true now that we all have video cameras built into our phones. Film buffs and filmmakers from professional to amateur status should seek this film out on YouTube and give it a look at.

Though he does get the girl in the end...


Gatomon41 said...

I remembering watching this movie on VHS back in the 1990's. It was a great film with neat special effects. This movie deserves a DVD release.

Thanks for reviewing it :D

Tucsoncoyote said...

A 90 minute movie for a 5 minute short..

Can we say that it takes 85 minutes of space to run that 5 minut short..

Yet Mike Jittlov was a genius for the short.. Can't say too much about the full feature..

Doc Brown: Marty We gotta go back to this year and keep him from mking the full length film

Marty McFly: But Doc, withoutt him, we don't get 3 great movies to tell our story..

Doc Brown: Good point..

Look go see the 5 minute short, don't waste you time o the remaining 85 minutes.. unless you want to..