USA / 1979
Normally in this list of animated shorts, story is high on my list of qualifying criteria, and myself being a part time writer it’s possibly higher up than it would be for most animators. I make an exception to this in the case of a few films as they seem to transcend the normal rules of cinema and the The Wizard of Speed and Time is one of these. It basically has very little story but it makes up for this with an insane enthusiasm and a gripping and unrelenting blur of pixilation, stop frame and other real world single frame manipulation with some nice some old school optical effects thrown in for good measure, doubly impressive as it’s the work of one man.
What story there is in this film is pretty easily explained. In the first half (entitled ‘Speed’) a young man in a green wizard costume tears around America at superfast speed like a live action pixilated Speedy Gonzales. He gives a pretty female hitch hiker a lift to Hollywood where her unconventional arrival causes a sensation and she is mobbed by photographers, causing a bunch of other attractive young women to hitch lifts with him themselves, for whom he provides golden stars instead.
In ‘Time’ the second half of the short, the ‘Wizard of Speed and Time’ (a title presumably also referring modestly to the real life SFX maestro Jittlov, who plays the main character) slips on a banana peel and flies through the air into an empty sound stage which he brings props and equipment to life in many magical and ingenious ways in a riot of intricate and dense stop frame action while singing us a song explaining who he is. As I say, its all pretty mental, in a wholesome healthy suntanned blowdried 1970s manner.
Director Mike Jittlov starred, wrote, produced and created all of the hundreds of effects himself in the film, which became a cult hit at festivals and screenings. Ten years later he released a remade, expanded feature length version with the same name (also now viewable on youtube). The equally ideas, tricks and effects packed feature also incorporated portions of some of his other short films (such as Time Tripper and Animato), this time the story going behind the scenes of the film making to relate the exploits of a special effects technician (again played by Jittlov) trying to make his own feature in Hollywood. Amongst the many problems in his path are devious scheming Hollywood producer types, an aspect that was mirrored in real life when apparently the films co producer Richard Kaye ran off with the films completion budget. Like the seeming wish fulfillment aspects of the short (ie being mobbed by screaming girls) the feature film created a fantasised comic dramatisation of Jittlov chasing his dream of making a feature film.
Jittlov had started out as a Maths/Language student at University of California in the early 1970’s when he joined an animation module to satisfy an art requirement of his course.From that moment on he was hooked and began making short films, first on Super 8 mm film, then 16mm to enter festivals, then he entered them into the Academy Awards, where several of his shorts made it to the finals. This brought him to the attention of Disney (you may have realised by now from reading this list that any animator possessing any talent and commercial potential ends up working for Disney at some point) who commissioned him to create sequences for their TV specials and short films for people to watch while waiting in the queues at Disneyland. The Wizard of Speed and Time short was made with a view to selling it to Disney producers, and they first used it as part of a 1979 TV special called “Major Effects”
Disney had a policy of not crediting animators in such films so Jittlov hid his own name and his film making partner Deven Chierighino’s name in the animation of his films, a habit that he would maintain. For instance subliminal messages are hidden in the animation and special effects of the Wizard of Speed and Time short and feature , including plugs for cult 1980’s subversive cult pseudo religion The Church of the Sub-Genius (which was very un Disney).
Like a lot of films on this list, this film is the result of one man’s obsessive creativity and single minded drive, self funded and made without the help of any big studio, which tends to give a film a better chance of feeling individual and unique. Somehow however The Wizard of Speed and Time feels like even more unique and even more of an impressive achievement than most other truly independent short films. Not just in terms of its originality and tremendous enthusiasm for the possibilities of cinema, which translates as an infectious ‘just go for it’ spirit and inspirational joie de vivre, but also something about its incredible scope feels quite awe inspiring. Unlike most animated shorts this wasn’t made by someone locked away in a bedroom or studio for years, a lot of this was made out there traveling through the world, along busy freeways and densely populated city streets. The immense problems of a one man band production like this, interacting with, disrupting and manipulating the world around must have been truly not a project for the feint hearted and taken immense powers of charm and persuasion in addition to the fantastic animation, visual fx and film making technical skills on show.
Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is a list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. Click here to see all of the picks of the list so far. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome!