Although my time in Manhattan proper was limited during my trip to Electric Zoo in NYC last weekend, I think that my recent exposure to the city has inspired me to further explore it through the documentary/character study of Tim “Speed” Levitch in The Cruise (1998). It was on my Netflix Instant Queue for a while after seeing Edward Norton say it was his favorite movie of all time.
In the first minute of the film, I thought I might have trouble watching over an hour of this guy’s somewhat grating voice, but by the end I grew to find it endearing. At any given time I was thinking that Speed was either mentally unstable, hilarious, wise, innocent or a poet. Or perhaps a combination of many of those. The main subject of the film is Speed’s obsession with “The Cruise,” the term he uses to describe his routes as a tour guide for the Gray Line double decker bus. Speed is a truly fascinating character who describes his love affair with The Cruise, the city and its geographical features in a way that is both blatantly sexual, but somehow naive or innocent in its delivery. While he speaks of wild sexual exploits frequently, he often seems too juvenile to have ever experienced a sexual encounter. He is particularly enamored by the architecture, whether it is the terra cotta buildings or the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond. He speaks of his relationship with the city and these buildings as if they were people, while he also rages about his disgust for human civilization. At times it is hard to remember that he is talking to a double-decker busload of tourists, most of whom are probably a little put-off by their intensely poetic and dramatic tour guide.
And in addition to presenting an interesting individual with captivating critiques and comments about the Big Apple, its people, and its nature, Speed crams a lot of actual information about NYC in his tours. Some of his information may seem eclectic, and uninteresting to the fanny-packing crowd, he is full of knowledge about the city. His description of Central Park alone is worth watching the film. In the film, you don’t often see the reactions of the tourists to his words, but I often laughed just thinking about how they must have been reacting to his running commentary.
I’m going to go ahead and urge you to see this movie, because it is entertaining and oddly inspiring among a slew of flowery adjectives that I could throw in, but I’ll leave that to Speed. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 86%, and I would say that I might give it a little higher. Maybe a high B+.