In these days before the internet, it wasn’t easy to track down everything your favorite author had written. In the case of Kurt Vonnegut (my favorite author back in high school) there remained one book so elusive, no shop nor library could order it, yet it appeared in printed lists of his work: Between Time and Timbuktu. What was this mysterious novel? And why was it impossible to find?
As I later learned, Between Time and Timbuktu isn’t a novel at all. It’s a made-for-PBS movie from 1972, an experimental sci-fi / comedy done by Fred Barzyk, the guy who later made The Lathe of Heaven, a cult classic which was also made for PBS and which is also based on the work of a great “speculative fiction” writer (in that case, Ursula K. Le Guin). Ah, the 70’s, when you could actually get a project like this funded, even when you knew it was doomed to be seen by only ten people. A loose patchwork of early Vonnegut short stories and other scraps of Vonnegut’s ideas, Between Time and Timbuktu is unique for many reasons. First and foremost, unlike almost every other Vonnegut film adaptation, it’s actually good. Weird, quirky, low-budgety and totally out there, but good. Second, Vonnegut was heavily involved in the screenplay, and was quite happy with the result, for once. Third, it features a totally random cameo from the great comedy duo of Bob & Ray (Bob Elliot being the also-great Chris Elliot’s dad) for no apparent reason other than they’re awesome and they happened to do stuff for PBS sometimes. And fourth, no one’s ever seen the damn thing.
So here it is- as good a copy as you’re going to find, which isn’t saying much, but the deadpan weirdness still holds up after all these years. I finally did track down a used copy of the book Between Time and Timbuktu, which is actually just the screenplay accompanied by a ton of great photos from the production, and which, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, is available here in its entirety for your enjoyment as well.