39 MPH / Fans Feel the Need for Speed

A Global Fraternity of Collectors and Enthusiasts

Like any hit pop-culture landmark that endures 30 years later, Speed brings with it a certain fandom. (Ahem.) It may not be the kind of movie that inspires vast gatherings like Lebowski Fest or Star Wars Celebration or produce a level of memorabilia that drives auction house prices through the roof (though who wouldn’t want one of those buses?), but an undeniable appreciation and adoration for the film still manifests itself around the globe.

That’s the subject this week as 50 MPH turns its lens from the film to the fanatics. Take the Brisbane-based interactive theater and comedy company Act React, for example. Led by creatives Natalie Bochenski, Dan Beeston and Gregory Rowbotham, Act React launched its own homage to Speed in 2017 in the form of Speed: The Movie, The Play. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like it is.

Speed: The Movie, The Play
The set of Speed: The Movie, The Play in Brisbane, Australia

“We wanted to do something inspired by pop culture, inspired by movies, something that would take the best parts of improvisation and the best parts of theater and just make a rocking, rollicking comedy,” Bochenski says. “We wanted to make a show that was like a roller coaster. So, you don’t get a chance to stop. You are just constantly bombarded with action and jokes.”

The show welcomes an audience of 40-45 people onto a bus to not only experience a comedic version of Speed‘s plot, but to become immersed in it as well.

“Some of the jokes kind of write themselves in a way that, you have to make the scene work, but you don’t have $28 million to make the scene work,” Beeston says. “So, you’re, like, ‘OK, well, we can’t drive these people around in the bus. How do we make the bus look like it’s moving?’ And so, you get, like, inflatable palm trees, and you get people running down the side of the bus, so it looks like the bus is moving and the trees are stationary, when it’s vice versa. So, at all points in the play, we’re trying to solve these problems that turn a lot of prop moments into their own jokes. That’s a lovely foundation from which to build.”

The result has been popular enough to demand local travel in Australia, but Bochenski and company have dreams of taking it international. As she and Beeston break down their creative process and take you on a deep dive into the show’s mechanics, try not feel like you’re missing out on one hell of a show.

Elsewhere, though sticking with the Aussies, there’s visual effects journalist and Befores & Afters editor-in-chief Ian Failes. A Speed nut with an addiction to memorabilia, Failes has amassed a vast collection of items and posters. He has even exhibited in a Sydney gallery!

“It’s probably a thousand pieces,” Failes says. “It’s a bit over the top. It takes up a lot of my house here and now garage, and my girlfriend is pretty much just getting used to it, I think. There’s amazing posters and DVD releases, mini-DV things, UHD things over the years. After collecting posters, I got obsessed with all the different kind of VHS covers and DVD covers of Speed, so, I’ve got, like, 50 of those from around the world as well. It really went a bit psycho.”

Failes has been keeping track of the collection, by the way, at a dedicated Instagram account. (Real ones will love the username.)

Speaking of obsessive collectors, you might have seen headlines several years ago about a man dedicated to acquiring every VHS copy of Speed in existence. Or as close as he can get. That man is apparent student-for-life Ryan Beitz, who sits on a number of degrees already as he pursues his doctorate at UCLA and crowd-sources a collection for the ages under the banner of The World Speed Project. (You can send copies directly to Beitz via the address below.)

“I went to a pawn shop that was liquidating VHS, and I just picked up all the Speed,” Beitz says of the project’s beginnings. “It was, like, maybe eight or something on the shelf. I took them up front and the guy goes, ‘Are you trying to buy, like, just, like, all the Speed?’ And I was, like, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ And then he was, like, ‘I got two more boxes in the back. You can have all of them for 10 bucks.’ And at that point, the stack was eight feet high. Like, it touched our ceiling in our apartment. How are you going to stop then? You’ve already, like, succumbed to the repetition compulsion. You’ve just got to keep doing it over and over and over and over. And every time it’s good.”

The World Speed Project

Beitz has rounded up upwards of 5,000 VHS copies of the film on a Sisyphean quest to — well, mostly just have fun along the way.

“The tagline on our T-shirts is, ‘Because the world needs pointlessness,'” he says. “So, if it’s really going to be art, you have to take the excess of capital and put it toward, like, a useless end. But some of the ways we’ve thought about doing that: launching them into space. Eighth Wonder of the World pyramid. And there’s going to be tombs and stuff. It’s going to be awesome. I once applied for a grant to get, like, a motorbike trailer or whatever, like the enclosed ones, those big, white, like, sheet-metal trailers, and I wanted to cover the walls in Speed, as well as LCD screen TVs. And all the TVs would be playing perfectly offbeat from one another, so, you’re kind of seeing the whole movie at once at all time.”

A pity for anyone to try and follow that up, but Matthew Walden, David Holland and Daniel Morfesis, hosts of the popular movie podcast Better Than Speed, are worthy for the cause. Because theirs is a journey to explore film history through the cheeky lens of Jan de Bont’s thrill ride.

“For me, it was a little bit of sugar to help the medicine go down for our listeners,” Walden says. “Because there are a lot of kind of stuffy art and foreign movies out there, which I love. I mean, that’s my bread and butter. That’s what I watch every day. But I wanted people to have a reason to listen each week, and what better reason than Speed, which I think is probably one of the most entertaining, if not the most entertaining movie that’s ever been made? And so, that’s kind of the Trojan horse to get people to listen to us talk about other important movies in film history.”

All of that and more on this week’s episode of 50 MPH!


Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, The New York Times, Empire and Vanity Fair. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.