October 23, 2003

Open Media

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Until 1997, Timothy “Speed” Levitch was a penniless New York City tour guide who paid homage to his Jewish ancestors’ traditions of wandering through the desert by spending his nights passed out on various couches throughout the city. After the release of The Cruise in 1998, a documentary featuring Levitch, and subsequent roles in such films as Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, Levitch is still a penniless New York City tour guide without a bed to call his own. However, he also happens to be a very noteworthy cult icon.

daze: In becoming a tour guide, did you purposely set out to use the job as a means of self-expression, or were you just trying to make ends meet?

Speed Levitch: I was at NYU studying playwriting and about to graduate. Someone told me I had to get a job. I didn’t know anything about that. The whole idea of labor just bugged me. My favorite hobby was appreciating beauty. I also liked to perform. So, when you put it all together, it made sense, it was like a perfect mix of characteristics for being a tour guide. After doing my first couple of tours, what really pushed me over the edge were the women. Beautiful women. Everyday. From every continent.

daze: So where in New York do you especially like to take the aforementioned beautiful women?

SL: Well, my tour is a never-ending one. Unlike a real-live tour which seems to have a definite beginning and a definite end, mine don’t. When I start a walking tour, my first word is usually “and” or “also” to imply the infinity of the tour. A tour is what we all do all the time. We are all tourists, touring each other, each of us landmarks on each other’s tour.

daze: Are you a life-long New Yorker?

SL: I don’t really consider myself a New Yorker. I don’t know what that term means. A term is what happens when language and laziness hang out and have a beer. But the term New Yorker is a particularly silly one to me. I think that New York has got the same tone as the bar scene in the original Star Wars. There are all kinds of aliens in that bar, and the only thing that unifies them is that they’re all trying to avoid the empire.

daze: You’ve been living a sort of nomadic lifestyle, crashing on your friends’ couches. Do you ever just want to come back to your own home?

SL: I think that rent is essentially a diabolical conspiracy. Sometimes I just sit back and imagine what would happen if all the amazing young people in the city didn’t have to pay rent, and could aim their energy at something other than cash flow for an anonymous landlord. But my couch surfing is not some sort of ideological statement, it’s a practical strategy because I am too impoverished to pay rent in New York City. That is because I am an artist, and artists are almost synonymous with persecution.

daze: So you were in Waking Life. Just for my own sake, how was working with Ethan Hawke?

SL: Ethan’s a comrade of mine; a cosmic playmate.

daze: You’ve been involved in all sorts of projects. How do you feel about the state of the mainstream media today?

SL: Well, a lot of it is a psychiatric outcry for attention. It’s an attempt to replace being, to replace intimacy. Most of the time, I don’t even think New York really exists. Only when people are having eye contact, breathing together, sharing, is human engagement occurring. If they were able to look into each other’s eyes for too long, they’d be uplifted into grandiose acts of love, and they would miss the evening news.

Speed is appearing tonight at 7:30 pm in Willlard Straight Hall at the Cornell Cinema. Tickets $7.

Archived article by Talia Ron