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Taylor St. Clair
A Hollywood filmmaker (Mike Jittlov) makes a short for an evil film studio. Unbeknownest to him, the producer has placed a bet of $25,000 that he won't come up with anything with a use. Luckily, our film creator gets the help of his friends. Written by
Magnus Y Alvestad <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Some years ago, the USA cable network carried a late-night program called "Night Flight" which featured an assortment of entertainment, including rock videos and short films. Although I wasn't a regular viewer, I stumbled across "Night Flight" when it aired a live-action animated short called "The Wizard of Speed and Time." I was blown away by the film's ingenious use of stop-motion photography and other camera trickery as it told the story of a green-robed wizard who possesses the ability to run around the world in just a matter of minutes.
"The Wizard of Speed and Time," it turned out, began as a short subject made in 1979 by filmmaker Mike Jittlov. Some years after making the original film, Jittlov took his idea and expanded it into a low-budget feature, also called "The Wizard of Speed and Time," which tells the story of a young filmmaker named Mike Jittlov and his struggle to make a special-effects-laden short film for a TV special despite having few resources (i.e., money) while battling the Hollywood bureaucracy.
The five minutes or so of "Wizard" material in the feature are a triumph of shoestring ingenuity. We see a one-minute "work in progress" featuring marching tripods, dancing light stands and flying film cans as well as an infectiously catchy title tune (this was part of Jittlov's original short, with new music added). The film's climax is the finished product mentioned above (a remake and elaboration of the first part of the 1979 short - I think the remake is what I saw on USA). I marvel at Jittlov's ability to visualize in advance the dazzling images he's reaching for and his skill in achieving those images through frame-by-frame animation and undercranking. And notice how the camera refuses to stand still for the animations - other stop-motion films may seem rooted to the floor one set-up at a time, but Jittlov refuses to let his camera be tied down.
I just wish I could praise the rest of the movie as highly. It's friendly, it's likable, but when the Wizard isn't conjuring up his magic, the feature turns into what is, at best, only a mildly funny takeoff on Hollywood. I was hoping the ingenuity that Jittlov displayed in the Wizard sequences would also transform the surrounding story, which supposedly is based on his real-life experiences, but what we get is pretty thin stuff.
Jittlov's love of movie-making is much in evidence; there's at least one visual homage to the Walt Disney Company, and one of Disney's original "nine old men," animator Ward Kimball, makes a brief appearance as an examiner for the "Infernal Revenue Service." That's right, "infernal," and I'm afraid that's an indicator of the general level of verbal wit in "Wizard." We also get a studio head with a supposedly comic Jewish accent.
Still, Jittlov comes across as such an engagingly eccentric fellow - an animated character in his own right - that I wanted to believe in him and his house chock full of film-related gadgets and toys. Former Miss Virginia Paige Moore makes for a charming leading lady, both in the movie and the movie-within-the-movie. Philip Michael Thomas, the biggest name in the cast, plays a cop far removed from Miami. Fans of "Get Smart" may remember Angelique Pettyjohn, who was undercover agent Charlie Watkins in the 60s TV spy spoof; fans of the original "Star Trek" series will remember her from "The Gamesters of Triskelion."
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