The Cruise

Nov 25, 1998 at 12:00 am

New York City tour guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch wants to change not only the way you see Manhattan, but how you look at the world. At least that's the impression left by director Bennett Miller's idiosyncratic The Cruise.

The short (76 minutes) documentary is all Levitch all the time, which is both its strong suit and what may put audiences off. It might be easy to dismiss "Speed" -- with his nasally, rasping voice, exuberant expressions and brash opinionating -- as just another New York eccentric or, at worst, a crank. But there's more at work in his rapturous soliloquies.

Levitch spends his working hours on a double-decker bus as it weaves through the famous streets of Manhattan. Effortlessly blending the history of the city and its varied inhabitants -- he has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of New York-based authors and the exact location of their most despondent musings -- Levitch provides tourists with a highly personal interpretation of a city he views not as imposingly solid, but restlessly malleable and actually alive.

As someone who, by choice and temperament, lives on the margins of society, Timothy Levitch has built a philosophy based on the fluidity of change. The "cruise" of the film's title doesn't just refer to the tour bus, but to the idea that life is constant motion, a journey of strung-together moments that should be savored as they're happening.

As buoyant as he often seems -- able to truly appreciate what other people distractedly ignore -- Levitch is often hampered by the "anti-cruise" of repressive societal conformity. And, in the most densely populated city in America, he proves how utterly alone someone can feel.

Shot in high contrast black and white -- which casts Manhattan in a silvery glow -- Bennett Miller's film eschews the all-knowing voice of an "objective" narrator and allows a complex, often contradictory, portrait to emerge: that of a man who's reimagined his life as performance art.

"A masterpiece to me is not a painting," Timothy Levitch has said, "but a moment dashing across a canvas." So, in an appropriate paradox, The Cruise has captured "Speed" in motion.