Saturday, October 20, 2012

Because We, Also, Can Spin

By Jonathan Alexandratos
But of course it is appropriate that Bennett Miller’s THE CRUISE should come to me from the depths of a $2.99 DVD bin at my local National Wholesale Liquidators.  It is natural that a store of forgotten, off-brand, cheap, sepia-toned goods strewn across mercurial aisles should contain a documentary – a love letter! – as poetic as the tattered, lining-torn shop that offered it. 
For the past 76 minutes, I received a tour of the City that I live in (I always capitalize the C, but only for New York – as a jester tries helplessly to appease his *C*ourt) from Timothy “Speed” Levitch.  It was a black-and-white, 1998 New York City.  Fitting, I thought, as almost all of my memories of New York pre-September 2001 are in black-and-white. 
Timothy “Speed” Levitch is a tour guide for Gray Line Tours – you’ve seen their double-deckers if you’ve ever been here.  However, he’s also a poet.  On his tours, he quotes H.G. Wells (“To tell the social history of New York City, is to tell the story of the world.”) and Henry Miller (his description of hell as what’s on either side of the Brooklyn Bridge – the typical New York City nervous breakdown, as Speed characterizes it).  Levitch creates language.  The titular verb, “cruise,” is not so much a reference to what his tour bus does, but a word he has adapted to mean exercising one’s freedom.  Predictably, law enforcement, in Speed’s view, halts this – they’re called “the anti-cruise.”  He, Speed, rhapsodizes and waxes poetic, but always in an organic way.  This is not a man’s attempt at pretention; it is his need to preserve himself, his way of speaking, amidst a world – not to mention a job – that will have none of it. 
In fact, the only desired recipients of Speed’s musings are structures.  He confesses to the stones of the Brooklyn Bridge, unleashing upon them both vitriol and applause meant for those who have done him wrong (and he calls them out by name).  Levitch whispers to the muddied stone engravings that adorn buildings across the five boroughs.  He seduces us all by making verbal love to the terracotta figures on one particular edifice. 
Though, ultimately, Speed does not so much speed as he does spin.  Gray Line’s routes take him in circles – brushing up against an embarrassment of locations, but always looping right back around to where he started from.  Moreover, Levitch tells one boy how, if he’s ever after a fun time, he should go to the plaza between the World Trade Center’s North and South Towers and spin around, fast, until you fall down and, in Levitch’s words, “the buildings look like they’re collapsing on top of you – it’s fun.”  Such words are so haunting to think about now. 
Much of THE CRUISE haunts, but in an enchanting way.  Indeed, it manages to merge seamlessly with its animus, if films can have those.  Such is the character that is New York City – it is the black, the white, and everything in between, and everything before and everything after.  National Wholesale Liquidators, the former home of the DVD that is now mine, resides in Queens, on the perimeter of a parking lot that provides an excellent view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and is only about two blocks from where I live.  Often times, it is enough of an outing for me to just walk there to stand in that parking lot and ask, “But is it real?”  New York City is not a place for which a history can establish its reality.  We all know its history.  History doesn’t help when one stands – when I stand – in the silhouette of its skyline and every single element of narrative flutters off, as though they were resting on the wings of a dormant hummingbird that just decided to awaken, and that which sprawls out before its viewer simply is. 
THE CRUISE is the picture that captures the love of this experience.
With its theme of spinning, THE CRUISE additionally helps its audience.  New York City faced its share of problems in 1998.  It is facing more now.  The world is facing more, now.  I don’t need to state the Laundry List of Turmoil, here, because the Presidential Debates have that covered.  But THE CRUISE gave me cause to think that maybe it is the world that has now decided to spin, perhaps on our command, in full Technicolor.  And we view ourselves as the fixtures.  
And the world is spinning in the plaza between me and you.
And it thinks we are the Towers.
And it thinks collapse is just an illusion.
And we are the ones who know it is not.
And it wants to lie down and laugh and think that it’s the biggest thing ever.
But that’s when we have to move the most,
And cup our hands,
And show the world that it is not alone,
Because we, also, can spin.

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