As I admitted in a post below, I’ve always been a fan of the original 60s anime of Speed Racer. One of my proudest moments came in the early 1990s, when I was co-running Streamline Pictures, and I had the opportunity to concoct my own Speed Racer “movie”.
My business partner Carl Macek had been acquainted with the Rocknowski’s (John and Jim), a father and son, who represented the U.S. rights to the Speed Racer property (I was never sure if they owned the rights outright or managed them on behalf of Tatsunoko studios). One day in 1992, Carl came into the office and told me we had the rights to make a Speed Racer movie – and handed it over to me to create something we could release theatrically. The good news is that the Rocknowski’s gave the old show to MTV to rerun – and it was suddenly a retro hit. The other good news was that I found out that the original series was shot in 35mm (many early anime series were shot in 16mm). MTV was running old, fading 16mm copies… the movie I would create would look pretty amazing in full color and 35mm clarity.
I decided I would make a theatrical “event” by creating an extra long Speed Racer TV show that the college crowd could either watch seriously or goof on, but at least it would be fun. I chose The Car Hater because it explains the gimmicks of the Mach 5 and is a particularly ridiculous episode, and and the Race Against The Mammoth Car as it was a particular favorite from my Channel 11 (WPIX) formative years. I threw in a Colonel Bleep cartoon to bridge the episodes and inserted several vintage animated commercials (from Playhouse Pictures). Rummaging the Rocknowski’s film vault I found the original uncut Mach Go Go Go opening animation and incorporated that into the beginning of the film, and left in all the additional violence I found in the uncut 35mm masters I got from Japan.
We called the theatrical feature, The Speed Racer Show and held our world premiere at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles. That’s me, above, in front of the one sheet I had “wild posted” all over L.A. (click here to see the full image). The Rocknowski’s brought the original voices (U.S. dub), Peter Fernandez and Corrine Orr, out from New York and they did some local radio (KROQ) and TV (KTLA Morning News) and appeared at the opening night in person. Our first night was a smash, with lines around the block. Radio D.J. Richard Blade (from KROQ) was the M.C. of our first show and interviewed Corrine and Peter on stage. We partied at a local hotel afterward. Next to introducing Katsuhiro Otomo at the New York opening of Akira, this was my favorite moment of the entire Streamline Pictures experience.
The “film” I created was later sold to home video (the title changed to Speed Racer: The Movie). The poster, however, had an afterlife. It was used as a set decoration on the first episode (the pilot) of Friends. It’s prominently featured on the wall of Ross’ new apartment. In fact, it’s the only thing in his apartment (That’s Chandler, below, standing in front of it in the frame grab below – a frame from a hebrew subtitled clip on YouTube. If anyone has a better frame grab, please send it to me).
So that was my only professional involvement with Speed Racer. I had a great time, met many great people — and I wish the Rocknowski’s, and the Wachowski’s, all the best with their future efforts.