Meet Timothy ''Speed'' Levitch
It’s still early in the afternoon, but Timothy ”Speed” Levitch has already rattled on about the French Revolution, Russian Cossacks, astrology, Henry Miller, angel-hair pasta (”It’s an afternoon for angels!”), and the long lines at New York City cash machines by the time our taxi gets to Columbus Circle. ”Right now we’re on Broadway, which is the original dysfunctional vein of Manhattan!” he proclaims. ”We’re descending on Times Square. Which is not a square. It is a triangle. It is the ultimate triangle that proves once and for all that Pythagoras was an alcoholic. Any of its attempts at centrality are lost in all-omniscient commotion.”
Levitch is doing what he does for the entire duration of The Cruise, a feverish, fascinating new documentary in which he’s pretty much the only guy on screen: He’s talking — a lot — in a way that makes every nook and cranny of New York City feel like a glimpse into some mad, divine adventure. Decked out in billowing velvet pants, lavender boots, an ascot, and a clown jacket, scampering through the city like a cracked hybrid of Willy Wonka, Cosmo Kramer, and Bob Dylan around the time his brain cells went electric, Levitch is something you rarely see in the plain-wrap fare at the multiplex these days: an American original.
In fact, when Bennett Miller decided to make a movie about Levitch and his psycho-cosmic bus tours of the Big Apple, he figured he’d never get a penny from Hollywood. ”Somebody would have to be crazy to pony up money to do something like this,” says the 31-year-old director. ”Can you imagine what that pitch would sound like? I didn’t even bother.” Supported for three years by ”dribs and drabs” of cash from family and friends, Miller shot more than 100 hours of footage for The Cruise using only a handheld video camera — and no crew. Months later, miraculously, good word on the festival circuit led to a deal with Artisan Entertainment, the indie squad that made a cult hit out of Pi. ”The film has a mysterious gravitational pull,” Miller marvels. ”It finds the affection and support that it needs.”
So does Levitch. Although he grew up comfortably in the Bronx and graduated from New York University (where he studied to be a playwright), the 28-year-old mystic has been homeless for years. He’s slept on benches in Central Park and sofas in celebrity roosts — sometimes without the celebrities’ knowing. ”A friend hooked me up one night at Norman Mailer’s pad in Brooklyn Heights,” Levitch beams. ”I think swank is the right word.” He divides all life into liberation (”cruise”) and repression (”anti-cruise”). As today’s journey winds down, he gasps at a gelato stand that’s turned to rubble (”The anti-cruise is always winning!”), hails the cellular phone (”Telepathy is something we’re all capable of, and it’s almost like cell phones are training wheels”), rhapsodizes about taking The Cruise to the highway (”We’ll get a double-decker bus! An Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test II!”), and finally hoists a glass in a bistro near Little Italy. His toast: ”To the orgasms they cannot take from us!”