Weekend Watch: Take a ‘Cruise’ with two American originals

The cacophonous, full-on sensory assault of life in New York City is hard to get used to, even for people who’ve lived there for years. So pity the poor tourist, as annoying as he is with his inability to observe proper Manhattan sidewalk protocol.

Lucky is the traveler who finds lifelong New Yorker Timothy “Speed” Levitch as his guide. Levitch, the subject of the 1998 documentary “The Cruise,” doesn’t try to explain the chaos of his hometown as much as he embodies it, treating his captive audience to a poetic, funny, surreal, and sometimes even informative (the height of the Empire State Building varies with his mood) stream-of-consciousness monologue. His description of Central Park is a subtle plea for a less utilitarian way of life and is especially poignant some 25 years later:

The men who build and design this park are Transcendentalists; to them Central Park is a place to become one with nature. …No sweating allowed in the original Central Park. … Anyone you see bicycling, rollerblading, jogging, they are not historically accurate. Anyone you see lounging in the sun, having a picnic, or kissing, they are historically accurate.

Randall Michelson Archive/Getty Images

Although the “star” of the 1999 documentary “American Movie” was hapless yet driven filmmaker Mark Borchardt, something about his partner in crime (and childhood friend) Mike Schank, who died two years ago at 56, struck a chord with many viewers. A soft-spoken, amiable former drug addict, Schank did not seem to share his friend’s all-consuming artistic ambition; instead he seemed happy to enjoy sobriety and play guitar.

And yet “American Movie” finds him ready, time after time, to do whatever it takes to help Borchardt finish his long-in-the-making horror movie, “Coven.” It’s a fraught production, low on funding and reliant on volunteers who often don’t come through. Even the tenancious, good-natured Borchardt finds himself at wits’ end occasionally; fortunately, his childhood friend is always there to offer support.

“I didn’t even wanna wake up tomorrow morning. … I’m thankful that Mike came over and put a smile on my face,” confesses Borchardt after Schank drops by for Thanksgiving dinner. Viewers of “American Movie” usually have the same response.

To watch the normally spotlight-eschewing Schank unleash an impressively long, loud, and blood-curdling scream on cue during an ADR session is to witness the loyal support behind many a dreamer who manages to beat the odds.

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