Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater re-teams with tour guide, historian, and flâneur Timothy “Speed” Levitch in their new “Up to Speed” original travelogue series, which premiered on Hulu last week. Like a psychedelic Ken Burns on a “magical history tour,” Levitch invites viewers to, “Join us as we hang out and empathize with the inner psyches of famous landmarks and visit with the great, monumentally ignored monuments.” With an adenoidal and insightful voice whose eloquent loquaciousness is equal parts whimsy and weighty philosophy, Speed indeed engages with mostly inanimate yet renowned objects off the radar of mainstream history’s beaten path. In the premiere episode, “San Francisco: A City Shaped by Earthquakes,” Speed raps with a redwood and converses with the “rather flamboyant” gold fire hydrant that functioned so valiantly the day after the Earthquake of 1906. That these things talk back is more than jubilant kitsch and the laughs and vast knowledge to be gleaned from this show make it less “infotainment” than what Sarah Silverman coined as “learnmedy.”
Audiences were first introduced to the voluble mind of Speed Levitch in Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s 1998 documentary The Cruise, and Linklater recognized a kindred spirit. Linklater cast Speed in his animated feature Waking Life (2001) and they collaborated again on the 2003 short Live from Shiva’s Dance Floor. “Up to Speed” showcases Levitch, the writer and performer, but there’s no mistaking the great Linklater chat-n-amble milieu or the director/producer’s stamp of subversive bonhomie. “Up To Speed” also teems with playful animation that is evocative of Terry Gilliam’s work on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The first episode credits the distinctive animation and illustration to Jake Mendez and Marc English, respectively, in addition to graphic design credit. And although the first slate of six episodes do not visit Texas locals, the production is the fruit of several other Austinites like editor Mike Saenz and composer / bandleader Graham Reynolds of Golden Arm Trio and who also scored Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Bernie (and who will also be appearing with the Intergalactic Nemesis at the Stateside at the Paramount on August 18, 2012).
And so gentle readers, since you are presumably a fan of comedy and oddity and “Up to Speed” has both in spades, might I suggest treating yourselves to a screening of this wonderfully inventive program that also merits repeat viewings. Kick it!
Click HERE to watch the premiere episode of “Up to Speed,” with Speed Levitch, on Hulu