Speed Racer and Me

jerryspeedracer420.jpg

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).

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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.


  • Nathan Strum

    That’s the first time I’d seen the original intro. I wish that and more such bonus material had made it onto the current crop of DVDs (which are disappointing for a whole host of other reasons). I’d love to see subtitled versions of the original Japanese episodes, and a better job on re-mastering the US versions. Maybe if the movie is successful, it could prompt a proper DVD boxed set. Oddly enough, http://www.speedracer.com doesn’t even mention the new movie. Just a really horrible looking “new” Speed Racer series, which is likely to give the Fred Wolf version a run for its money in sheer awfulness.

  • http://www.chadtownsend.com Chad T

    Wow. I knew Carl Macek when I worked for an anime company here in TX. Carl Sure gets around :)

    I hope all the new Speed Racer stuff is good…I’m looking forward to it.

    Carl where are you?

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    That’s a fun story, thanks for sharing Jerry!

  • http://www.vitaminsteve.com Steve Flack

    I remember seeing an MTV News report on the success of Speed Racer in the early 1990′s, complete with a review about the “wildly successful” theatrical run of the “Speed Racer Show”.

    -Steve!

  • http://www.daganm.blogspot.com Dagan

    VERY interesting !! :)

    Jerry, Carl Macek was the fella’ responsible for giving us Robotech here in the US during the early-to-mid eighties, right?… Via Harmony-Gold?…

    I was a BIG Robotech ‘New Generation’ fan as a kid… Thank Mr. Macek for me if you see him! ;)

  • http://www.io.com/~o_m OM

    …Actually, Jerry makes a point about the original Speed Racer series: when fans are asked what their favorite episode, almost all of them say “The Mammoth Car one!” It’s essentially another retelling/reimaging of the classic “David vs. Goliath” story, one of those universal mythos that we never get tired of.

    Which is surprising considering that most Speed Racer episodes featured subliminal bestiality porn loops hidden away in Sprytle & Chim-Chim’s scenes…:P

    (Jerry, you are so going to regret letting us know about that overanalysis blog!)

  • James

    PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX, PIX

  • http://www.heal-emru.com Tamu

    Emru got to see Speed Racer yesterday. I think I may have to disown him for going without me.

    Jerry, that was a fabulous story. What an incredible experience. I’m so glad you shared it with all of us.

  • http://toonintoonontoonout.blogspot.com/ Rookie

    I just saw the original opening you provided the link to for the first time and got a kick out of seeing it so thanks! Mammoth Car was my favorite as well and I also liked the GRX episode where Speed was afraid of,,,well, speed.

    PS This upcoming movie doesn’t interest me and I’m a huge fan must be getting old.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Being reminded of just noticing this opening as it was shown in Latin American countries where the series was called “Meteoro”. Using the music-only track of the Japanese theme and having some guy announcing the show over it.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=YRTNLtb_E8A

    Course there’s also this Italian version of the opening and the way they like to come up with original tunes on their own!
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=lOsFvTcqal4

    Apart from the ’67 classic series, there where two remakes in the 90′s that some might get confused over which his which. Fred Wolf Films produced “The New Adventures of Speed Racer” around ’93 for syndication, while Tatsunoko produced an updated “Mach Go Go Go” which aired in Japan in ’97. The latter was brought over by Speed Racer Enterprises/DIC under the title “Speed Racer X” some years later (though the naming of the show went through many permutations) and aired on Nickelodeon during a short-lived block called “Slam” in ’02. I don’t remember much about seeing it then, but I had back when I was getting tapes from friends of the show in raw Japanese to see the differences. I personally didn’t care for the new characters/designs that were in place (this was similar in tone to the Gatchaman ’94 OVA series the studio did years before), since I felt Tatsunoko could’ve easily just take the existing characters and just animated those with then-current techniques and it would’ve been fine with us (despite some younger fans who might cry “old” at the sight, reason why Cyborg 009 and Astro Boy never cut it here when those shows were on).

    Here’s the first opening of that series…
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=HbPdlHx_BtU

    Reason why I say it’s the new opening is that at some point during the production and airing, the show had terrible ratings in Japan, and the original staff or director was let go and a new set of guys were brought in to try to ‘fix’ it with a separate story arc (shades of Real Adventures of Jonny Quest). The show was planned to run at 52 episodes, but ended after only 34. The second story arc however didn’t stay too close to it’s racing roots, as Go Hibiki & Co. are wisked away in some sort of time traveling device and are trying to find their way back home, though they bothered giving the Spritle character an primate in the form of a gorilla. This opening obviously tried it’s best to adapt the classic theme for the late 90′s…
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=tmBeLT5caGM

    Aside from noticing a lot of YT vids on the subject, one that popped into my eye is this promo for a Japanese slot machine featuring some cool animation seen during gameplay.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TSTt75ibBZc

    To close my comments, here’s the ending in it’s textless glory!
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=HYrWTMmh89o

  • http://www.davemackey.com Dave Mackey

    I have the complete Friends box. I will see if the pilot is on there and shoot you better screen grabs sometime this weekend.

  • matt

    Great pic of you, Jerry.

    Look at all that hair! ;)

  • Snark

    Yeah! Vintage pics of Jerry Beck! Keep those Jerry photos coming!

  • http://www.filmbuffonline.com Rich D

    Hey, I remember catching SPEED on WPIX too! That was the great thing about growing up in Harrisburg, PA in the 70s. Our cable outlet carried PIX and WOR out of NYC and channels 17 and 29 out of Philly, so afternoons were spent flipping back and forth between all four channels for the best in imported Japanese fare- Speed Racer, Astro Boy, Starblazers, Battle of the Planets, Ultraman, The Space Giants, etc…

    (I love the appropiateness of posting this message by clicking on the word ‘Go”!!)

  • http://beesbuzz.biz/ fluffy

    For what it’s worth, the home video version is available on Hulu now.