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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wizard of Speed and Time: The Greatest Lost Treasure of the VHS Era

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge sc_38_wizardofspeedandtime.jpg

The Wizard of Speed and Time is a semi-autobiographical tale of a special effects wiz(ard) battling the Hollywood system. I speak from experience when I say it was an employee favorite at the Video Zone in Fresno back in the 1990s. It's still beloved by many of us.

Director Mike Jittlov stars as himself, and he also wrote, edited, scored, and co-produced the film -- and (duh) did the special effects. The majority of them are technically visual effects, not special effects, but I'm not here to split those hairs.

Instead, I'm here to praise a film that is not the only the greatest lost treasure of the VHS era -- oh yeah, I'm callin' it -- but of the Laserdisc era, too, and one that has been, sadly, out of distribution ever since.

Describing it as "pre-CGI" is too pat and too retconny. Rather, I prefer to think of Jittlov's approach as "I've got an optical printer, and I'm not afraid to use it."

Jittlov works many of his short films into the movie, starting with "Animato."

Jittlov's bike ride through Hollywood encapsulates the tone of the film: upbeat and film-positive (and a world where special effects really exist, if mostly via Jittlov) but also very dark if you listen to the lyrics of the song. Also, note the late 1970s / early 1980s trope of a horror movie marquee meant as a statement about the moral bankruptcy of Hollywood. (See also: Annie Hall.)

He does not care for unions. Another encapsulation of the texture of the film: Even in scenes with no visual effects, the film never slows down, and the production design and camerawork are always imaginative and cinematic.

One of my favorite scenes. Simple yet so romantic! And I adore the music, though I must admit, I didn't get the all the double entendres until just now.

An appearance by the great Stephen "And Leon's getting laaaarger!" Stucker from the Airplane films, and also a light saber.

My other favorite scene: shooting in a garage.

Showtime! Jittlov shows his progress to evil film executives, using footage from his original short film "The Wizard of Speed and Time," which I'm led to believe was shown on the Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in the late 1970s. I sincerely hope so, because (among other things) it meant a pentagram was shown during family hour.

Trying to film in public without a permit -- see also: Ed Wood -- leads to a line that still makes me laugh: "Hey, let's land on that big green plastic rock!" (It's all in the delivery.)

In spite of the best efforts of the rest of the world, the completed short film is shown on television. It again incorporates footage from the original short film, as well as new material, and is just plain fun.

But Mike doesn't actually know the film actually got broadcast, and he is feeling sad about it until -- after finally getting to kiss his girlfriend -- all the people who saw the broadcast gather to sing his praises.

Speaking of '70s/'80s tropes, this was not the first time an artist/producer wrote, directed, and starred as themselves in a film about their real-life struggles, and just when all is at its bleakest in the final reel (the forces of evil have apparently won, and/or he has given up on his art), a crowd of people appears to literally sing a song about how awesome the artist/producer is, causing him to realize that he is appreciated and is doing God's work.

Chuck Barris did it a few years earlier in The Gong Show Movie. Oh my yes, The Gong Show Movie exists, and we'll get to it one day soon.

But, for now, you owe it to yourself to watch The Wizard of Speed and Time. And check your cynicism at the door.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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