The Wizard of Speed and Time (1989)

The Wizard of Speed and Time is one of two films.  It is either a 1979 short film showcasing the stop-motion animation talents of Mike Jittlov or it is a 1989 feature film comically detailing Jittlov’s struggle to bring his fantastic visions to the big screen.  Many fortunate souls privileged enough to have the Disney Channel during the early days of cable television fondly remember the hyper-kinetic antics of a green-cloaked Wizard with the power to magically race across space and time.  Few people ever had the opportunity to see the feature length version and perhaps it is to their benefit that they did not.

The feature version The Wizard of Speed and Time is not a great, but a curious film. Unlike the short, the feature is not the purely whimsical, good-spirited celebration of movie magic that made so many fans of the 1979.  No, the 1989, feature is a cathartic film.  It is an airing of grievances against a movie industry designed to shut out the individual spirit.  The feature is a fictional retelling of the battles Jittlov had to endure to make it in the film industry.  Standing in Jittlov’s way are crooked producers, unforgiving unions, and cops asking for countless permits.  To an eccentric and gifted artist like Jittlov, the film business is one more focused on following rules than following your heart.  Where as Hollywood is concerned with the bottom line, Jittlov’s only concern is dazzling his audience and making them believe in the magic of movies.  It is an innocent, foolhardy ambition, but one he full believes in.  As both a character in the film and the creator of the film, he sets out to prove them wrong by telling his own story.

Mike Jittlov’s story is complicated. If it starts anywhere, it starts at in the early 70’s at UCLA.  Not knowing what he should study, Jittlov enrolled in a basic animation class to fulfill a mandatory art requirement.  He quickly discovered he had a knack for animation.  Jittlov’s very first effort, a handcrafted nightmare entitled Good Grief impressed UCLA so much that they had it blown up to 35mm and submitted to the Academy Awards.  Jittlov’s student work competed along side professionally produced short animations.  While it did not win, the Academy deemed Jittlov’s one-man production good enough to be a finalist.

After college, Jittlov turned his entire house and garage into a one-man production studio.  A natural born inventor and a self-proclaimed Renaissance Man, Jittlov has not only created his own animation stands, camera rigs, and camera motion controls, but he can also whistle in three-and-a-half octaves, speak seven languages, and write 23 lines to the inch. A perfectionist at heart, Jittlov poured hours of energy into creating highly elaborate stop-motion and kinestasis (photo-cut out) animations that marveled fans and professional filmmakers alike.  From his humble, homemade, studio Jittlov produced works of pure mirth that won him awards and high praise.  However, what Jittlov really wanted to do was make a feature film.

In the hopes of catching a big break, Jittlov created two films of pure whimsy to display his talents.  The shorts Animato and Time Tripper, caught the eye of Regis Philbin, then a Los Angeles anchorman, who insisted on showing them immediately on television.  As luck would have it, a Disney executive just happened to catch Jittlov’s work on the tube. When Nick Bennion met Mike Jittlov, he could not believe that one man had created everything he saw on television that fateful night.  Jittlov further surprised Bennion by handing him a feature length script entitled Godspeed.  The sheer audacity of an unknown writer and director asking for a feature film, production deal caught Bennion off guard.  The Disney executive convinced Jittlov that if he could recreate the zippy stop-motion on display in Time Tripper for an upcoming special that Bennion was doing on special effects that Jittlov’s talents might catch the eye of some higher-up Disney executives.  Jittlov agreed to create a short piece specifically for Bennion’s special and thus the short version of The Wizard of Speed and Time was born.

At seven minutes in length, the original Wizard of Speed and Time is a break-neck, globe trotting flight of fantasy.  A fleet-footed, green-cloaked wizard, played by Jittlov himself, zooms down a highway.  He scoops up a country girl bound for Hollywood and delivers her to California.  Instantly, she becomes a star.  The Wizard then sets off across the globe, carrying an Olympic torch and leaving behind a trail of goodwill. His travels end when he slips on a banana peel ascends into space, swings off the arm of the Space Shuttle and lands squarely in front of the Hollywood sign.  The short ends with the Wizard saluting the sign and smiling to the camera.

Within this short film and the character of the Wizard Jittlov’s view of the film industry is explicit.  To Jittlov movies are wild fantasies dreamt up by magicians.  They are pure imagination brought to life and designed to bring joy to the audience.  The ear-to-ear grin upon the Wizard’s face not only expresses the joy he receives from bringing enchantment to those he encounters, but it also communicates a maniacal obsession.  The speed of the Wizard is the speed of Jittlov’s own mind, frantically racing from one idea to the next, continually thinking of new ways to amaze.  However, for all that the Wizard does it takes dumb luck, a slip on a banana peel, to land him in Hollywood.  This is, of course, where the Wizard belongs – a magical land where dreams really do come true, if only on the big screen.  It is no wonder he salutes the Hollywood sign.

After making the short version of The Wizard of Speed and Time Disney was so impressed that they asked him to make a very special animation for the 50th Anniversary of Disney Animation.  With total creative control and unprecedented access to a vast collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia, Jittlov produced Mouse Mania.  This singular short piece about a rabid Mickey collector delighted fans and could bee seen for years on The Disney Channel.  It was not, however, a feature and it was not exactly Jittlov’s own idea.  Subsequent offers came from Disney, but the one thing they never suggested was that Jittlov produce one of his feature length scripts.

Upset and slightly disillusioned by his experience, Jittlov set out on his own.  Rather than attempt to make one of his feature length animations, Jittlov did what many writers do best.  He wrote what they knew. The narrative of a talented, green-jacketed, special effects wiz with an aversion to shaking hands who tries to make it in the movie business is straight from Jittlov’s own life.  In film form, the Jittlov story is a live action underdog story told in a family friendly style with cartoon flair.  Inter-spliced throughout the film are snippets of Jittlov’s previous animated work, like Time Tripper, Animato plus the seven-minute version of The Wizard of Speed and Time.  Were it not for the anger and vitriol Jittlov harbored after years of struggle the film would play out like a multitude of kid’s films where the goodhearted hero stays true to his ideals, defeats the one-dimensional forces of evil that set out to ruin him, and walks off into the sunset with the girl.

While the fictional Mike Jittlov stays relatively optimistic in his pursuit, the real Jittlov uses his film to make jabs at everyone from greedy producers to George Lucas to his most detested enemies, the unions.  Throughout the film, Jittlov ridicules the exclusive nature of unions.  For a man who touts 100 film positions to his credit, but holds no union card the necessity for union works to produce a film must be maddening.  Of course, in the movie Jittlov succeeds. That is the luxury of scripting.  In the end of The Wizard of Speed and Time, the world gets to see the fruition of Jittlov’s work and he gets the girl.

In reality, few people ever saw the feature length version of this film. Jittlov accuses his distributor of mishandling the release of The Wizard of Speed and Time.  He goes so far as to say that his film was buried just to that it did not directly compete with the Nintendo financed, The Wizard, starring Fred Savage.  In another odd occurrence of life imitating art, the unscrupulous businessman in Jittlov’s movie was also his business partner in the real world.  To this day, he accuses his partner of ruining the film. What little credence exists to these claims, the truth is that The Wizard of Speed and Time quickly disappeared from the box office and the few videotapes produced were quickly lost to the dustbin of time.  Online, Jittlov has created a small following of devoted fans.  While they find his troublesome saga through the gears of the film industry of some interest he is remembered more for his upbeat, short animations that revel in movie magic.

Mike Jittlov’s failure is certainly not due to lack of talent, at least as an animator.  Considering his place in history, he could have been George Lucas, another independent minded, union hating, dreamer.  As a live action, feature film director, Jittlov is nothing spectacular.  Then again, neither is George Lucas.  Nevertheless, it must be considered that feature version of The Wizard of Speed and Time is not a feature film  Jittlov intended to make.

No, The Wizard of Speed and Time is both a rebuke of Hollywood and a misguided, second attempt to prove that Mike Jittlov is a talented artist deserving of a spot in the film industry.  It is quite amazing to watch someone desperately wanting acceptance while at the same time he curses out the same system he wishes would embrace him.  Whether Jittlove is overly confident in his talent or purely naХve to the inner workings of the film industry is uncertain, perhaps it is both.  His child like view of the world that helps him construct such imaginative animations seems to blind Jittlov to the harsher realities of an adult world that has long given up on the notion of wishing upon a star.  It is as if he is incapable of seeing that perhaps he himself is to blame for his own lack of success.  Rather than concede that his own peculiarities and his refusal to play by the rules of those holding the purse strings kept him from achieving his dreams Jittlov has positioned himself as the hero, fighting the good fight.  Through it all, it is quite amazing that Jittlov has refused to give up his dreams or at least his belief in magic. Jittlov feels his faith in movie magic will one day vindicate his approach to filmmaking.  When the monster that is the film industry is slain then the world might see Jittlov as the Wizard who brought down the dragon with his magic.  Of course, in order to perform this fete of artistic wizardry, Jittlov has continually sought the backing and approval of that which he looks to admonish.  Here in lies the paradox of Mike Jittlov.  He is a man in love with movies and at war with Hollywood.  Yet, he has turned his back on both Hollywood and for now, on movie magic.

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