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Movie Review

'Cruise' Guide Leads Engaging Tour Through Life

November 06, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you are lucky, you might land Timothy (Speed) Levitch as your Gray Line tour guide of New York City. Lots of guides can summon the statistics that Levitch can ("The Empire State Building has seven miles of elevators"), but the brilliant and wildly imaginative Levitch--a thin, tousle-haired man of 28 with the utmost passion and intensity--brings a poet and philosopher's vision to his job. He sees the tour as no less than a metaphor for the journey through life and views his relationship to Manhattan and the universe itself in exuberant, cosmic terms.

He frequently uses the term "the Cruise," which he has said that, as a philosophy, means "the pursuit of the fullest amplification of self and the art of crafting moments out of time, while moving in a positive, forward direction." He has defined what he means by "the Anti-Cruise" as "agony and fear trying to justify themselves in our lives, attempting to control what is beautifully out of control."

With his film "The Cruise," documentarian Bennett Miller not only takes us along on Levitch's bus tours and his strolls through the city but also celebrates Levitch's brave spirit, his determined assertion of individuality and self-worth in the face of poverty, loneliness and his family's disappointment in him. At the same time, "The Cruise" is a paean to the glories of the city that Levitch views as a living organism, to which his relationship is in constant flux.

With his poet's metaphysical sensibility, he envisions buildings as being capable of feeling intimidated by more impressive structures and the entire city as collectively capable of making him feel gloomy or upbeat. To him, the city can seem alternately a Cyclops or a mermaid "who sings to me alone."

Levitch's words can soar and his spirit takes flight, but he is well-grounded in the everyday reality of survival below the poverty line. It is wonderful to watch him communicate easily and warmly with co-workers and tourists in plain language, leaving his poetic expressions for his tour spiels and for pouring out his confessions for Miller's camera. There is nothing precious in the sentiments of Levitch, a man who has looked inward deeply in order to look outward more acutely; he is not less aware of people than of buildings, which can transport him to ecstasies. He is an original thinker, constantly speculating on the relationship between the individual and society, between mankind and nature.

His tours, as a result, are gloriously idiosyncratic. A journey on a double-decker bus through Greenwich Village unleashes in him a torrent of names of the great writers and thinkers who lived there, when and where, and in what proximity to one another. A stop at Central Park prompts the observation that since its planners were transcendentalists, they did not intend its use for sports.

He knows full well that only a few tourists can connect with him, yet when two women from Argentina thank him affectionately, despite their shaky grasp of English, he looks back at them as they walk away with the simple pronouncement, "Style"--a quality Levitch and this film have in abundance.

Levitch represents a stand against a consumer-driven, materialistic society that promotes ruthless competition and total self-absorption. No fool, Levitch does not want to end up badly, as his grandparents fear he will. He concludes with a haunting fable about the Baal Shem Tov, the founding figure of Hasidism, and the Lamed-Vavniks, the 36 righteous people on whose shoulders rest the problems of the world. His essential goal, Levitch tells us, is "to be able to extol that I'm thrilled to be alive and still be respected." "The Cruise" validates beautifully a life that is its own validation.

* MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language. Times guidelines: suitable for all ages.

'The Cruise'

An Artisan Entertainment presentation of a Charter Films production. Writer-director-producer-cinematographer Bennett Miller. Executive producers J.B. Miller, Theodore Miller, David Yamner, David Cohen. Editor Michael Levine. Music Marty Beller. Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.

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