Sunday, August 29, 2010

THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1989)

I’ve got to begin by sending a huge thank you to my good friend Paul Parks, of the Wax Museums, for donating a landslide of sun bleached tapes he rescued from an East Texas mom and pop shop. This was a godsend, considering I spent most of August in and out of the hospital. Sadly, mounting medical expenses have smoked out the adult in me, and he’s quickly put the kibosh on tape hunting. But through the kindness of others, I’ve still managed to pull in a decent take this month. It's the only thing that's saved me from cabin fever.

It was a happy coincidence that a copy of SGE Home Video's “The Wizard of Speed and Time” was amongst the ex-rentals Paul found. Weeks prior, my pal Joey Gravis intercepted a copy at Half Price Books, where he works at the “buy” counter. He's in a prime position to cherry pick the sweetest shit as it rolls in, pretty much, so he always has amazing stuff to share. The weight of Joey’s affinity toward horror and pop culture castaways equals my own, so when he proclaimed that the film was one of his new favorites of all time, my curiosity piqued. Based on this glowing review, I immediately bumped this one up to the front of the cue.

I'm conflicted as to whether or not I liked this movie. The whole affair has the sterile aura of the World of Disney, but underneath this candy-coated cornball, a defective heart pumps out pure cynicism. The film's creator actually had loose affiliation with Disney at some point in his career, though, and the studio was a definite influence on this particular movie. Sure, up front everything's painted bright and stinks like cotton candy, but it masks frustration and grief. This is the Halloween candy bar with a razor in the nougat, but somehow it's purely accidental.

This movie was a lot of fun on the surface, but there was something about it that left me feeling pretty despondant. In this somewhat autobiographical satire, key creator Mike Jittlov at least attempts to use his bitter perspective to swath a path of hope, though.

Playing the part of himself, Jittlov is a wild and altruistic artist struggling to share his vision with the world. But the reality of the business thwarts his every attempt to make his dreams come true. The story begins as Jittlov distributes his special effects reels between two networks, both racing to produce FX television specials. With no legitimate credit to his name, he’s nearly drummed out of the opportunity to present his ability. But when TV director Lucky Straeker gets a hold of his tape, he recognizes Jittlov’s potential. Sleaze ball producer Harvey Bookman blows a gasket when Straeker insists they give the kid a shot. Harvey relents, under the condition of a 25,000 bet against Jittlov producing anything usable for the special.

Not only is Mike given a measly budget to work with, but Bookman works against him every step of the way. Meanwhile, the studio system’s impossibly convoluted series of hoops are practically strangling poor Jittlov. Fed up, Mike decides to buck the system and goes renegade, creating a masterpiece by the skin of his teeth. Still, he winds up getting screwed by Bookman, who takes the film and never pays him for his work.

The line separating reality from fantasy dissipates like a burning fuse, and the film’s finale ends with a surreal explosion, where good triumphs over evil, and talent ultimate wins out over cold greed.

Jittlov's whole point is that with a little ingenuity and imagination, you can create fantastic things even on a thread bare budget, and this fun little ride is proof of that. Ultimately, this is an artistic triumph. However, I'm more impressed by the film's bitter sweet qualities than I am by any of the optical illusions he conjures here. It's a Goofy depression.

Anyone who's ever been involved in the industry will get a kick out of Mike's over-the-top yet accurate rendering of the studio system's inner workings. They are a complete reality, and while Mike's actual film is a success, his zippity-do-da ending is nothing but idealistic bluster, and it does little to stave off the bleak reality which awaits us once the lights come up. But damnit, Mike tried.

Here's the most fucked up thing about this movie, though: Richard Kaye, the real life producer of "The Wizard of Speed and Time," also appears in the film Harvey Bookman, the asshole producer who's out to sabotage Jittlov. Ironically, Kaye apparently screwed Jittlov out of the film's rights, and Mike never saw a dime for any of his work.

The film was apparently shot in 1983, but wasn't released until 1989, and was based on Jittlov's 1979 short film of the same name. The original short is recreated in the feature as Mike's segment for the network's effects wizardry special.

This is another one of those movies that hasn't yet been put out on DVD, and the likelihood is pretty nil, though fans have been trading the film on torrents for years with Jittlov's blessing. You can read more about the Wizard at Mike Jittlov’s site.

3 comments:

  1. I too am puzzled as to whether i like this slow, plodding film but it is so irrestistably out of control. never heard anyone ever bring this one up. cool. love this blog

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  2. It's hopelessly dorky yet completely depressing at the same time. It really almost feels like something that would have been produced by PBS in the 70s, along the lines of the Electric Company. I've had a lot of people ask if me if we can watch it when they come over, and I always tell them I think I'm going to need a break before I can even think about sitting through it again.

    Thanks for checking out the blog, and for your kind words!

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