CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Jittlov

FEATURING: Mike Jittlov, Richard Kaye, Paige Moore

PLOT: Aspiring filmmaker Mike Jittlov makes a wondrous, delightful short film that catches the eye of Hollywood producers; they enlist him to make a feature containing the same formula of special effects magic and raucous whimsy, but sinister forces conspire to prevent Jittlov from realizing his dream.

Still from Wizard of Speed and Time

COMMENTS: Moviemaking is a cutthroat business, you know. Maybe you got a hint of that from a film like The Player. Or possibly  Barton Fink. Could have been The Big Picture. Or perhaps State and Main. Come to think of it, it might’ve been Living in Oblivion. Or Bowfinger or Hollywood Shuffle or My Life’s In Turnaround or In the Soup or …And God Spoke or any number of films where Hollywood takes a look in the mirror to catch a glimpse of the laborious and fraught process of trying to get a movie made. When filmmakers are instructed to write what they know, there are plenty who do exactly that.

Well, you can add Jittlov’s sole feature to that list, with the twist that what he knows is how to make lively low-budget special effects. In 1979, he created a short film exploiting his editing and stop-motion photography skills. As these things often do, the short became Jittlov’s calling card, a golden ticket into the world of Hollywood filmmaking. That turns out to be the starting point for this feature-length exploration of his journey into the heart of the moviemaking beast. And when it comes to “writing what you know,” Jittlow keeps his focus squarely on what he’s good at: special effects. The result is… almost exactly what you’d expect.

On the one hand, anyone who manages to assemble a feature film, particularly without the aid of a well-heeled studio, has undertaken a major achievement. On the other hand, Jittlov’s production is laden with the self-awareness of this achievement, and practically demands to be recognized for its own bravery and pluckiness. To call it self-indulgent is a ground-shaking level of understatement. Self-indulgence is the point; the message seems to be, “Everybody deserves a piece of this genius.”

For a zany comedy, The Wizard of Speed and Time is notably angry. One subplot of the film is Jittlov’s ongoing battle against moviemaking’s gatekeepers. Studio indifference, greedy vendors, apathetic accountants, zealous cops, guild oppressiveness (boy howdy, does this movie hate unions), gawking tourists, and general grownup shallowness are just a few of the forces lined up against the filmmaker’s pure and simple goal to make jolly little movies. Atlas Shrugged wishes its heroes and villains were drawn as starkly as this.

So this movie stands as Jittlov’s demonstration of what the Magic Store could be like if there wasn’t so much red tape and cynicism in the business. That being the case, let’s hear it for the bad guys, because The Wizard of Space and Time is exhausting. Determined to pile on the charm, it never lets up. Every jokey moment is slammed up against another jokey moment, with irony-laden captions, a music score taken directly from a theme park, undercranked footage, goofy sound effects, and so much post-production audio looping to guide you along the way. It’s so breathlessly insistent, it makes Airplane! look like a film.

The Wizard of Speed and Time is undeniably weird (or, as the movie itself jokes, “WHOLLY ODD”), but it’s so invested in its zany iconoclasm that it’s impossible to enjoy on any terms if you’re not Mike Jittlov. The climax of the film features a complete re-creation of the original short. This is a smart move; it reminds the audience that there is something genuinely charming here. What Jittlov does with little money and a whole lot of imagination is quite remarkable. And probably best appreciated in a small dose.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Created by cult animator and weirdo Mike Jittlov, this 1988 hella-low-budget film follows a talented but jobless special effects wizard as he navigates Hollywood… Jittlov’s enthusiastic DIY production earned a generation of cult fans, who allege he slipped over 1000 subliminal messages into the film. Spooky.”–Chase Burns, The Stranger

(This movie was nominated for review by Marko. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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