To call Timothy “Speed” Levitch a character would be an understatement. I think my wife described him best when she said that he’s a “New Age Katherine Hepburn,” but not even that description really gets to the heart of this guy. You have to simply watch “Live From Shiva’s Dance Floor” (a mere 20-minute commitment, but this DVD features a pile of extras; more on those in a moment) and experience “Speedology” for yourself. This release is the third DVD published by Aspyr Media, a videogame company branching out into the film business. (I also reviewed their other films, The Journey and Growin’ a Beard.)
This short, which was directed by Richard Linklater, was originally created for HBO as part of a series of films about 9/11. When that project fell through, Linklater, Levitch, and crew decided to go the independent route and take the piece on the film festival circuit. Levitch conducts bus tours of Manhattan full of off-beat trivia and wry observations of the organic pulse that he insists beats below the city’s concrete skin, and in this film he offers them up as conducts a walking tour of the area around Ground Zero. (One example of his thought process: the Twin Towers were sibling rivals who stood with their backs to each other. “People ask me ‘When will the Twin Towers speak to each other again?’” he asks.)
Levitch starts in the business district, discussing the city’s mercantile beginnings and offering a rapid-fire series of trivia tidbits, before he comes to Ground Zero. While he acknowledges the horror of 9/11, he doesn’t dwell on it, which is nice; we’ve all dwelt enough on that, I think. Instead, he outlines his idea of what the city should do with those inferno-blasted acres: create a joy park populated by buffalo. “You’ll go way beyond the duality of the bear and bull markets,” he says. “You’ll have the buffalo market.”
You may laugh, but I guarantee you’ll think about his idea for a while. It will never happen, of course, but it’s refreshing to hear someone offer a plan that doesn’t shoehorn a memorial in the middle of another skyscraper complex, which will become a token attempt to recognize those who are literally buried at Ground Zero while businessmen visit a nearby Starbucks each morning. Why not make the whole place a memorial?
If you have trouble keeping up with Levitch’s name-dropping and brief historical footnotes, you’ll want to watch the “Annotated Shiva” option, the first item in the Special Features menu. Select it and you’ll watch the film again, except now it pauses every so often and a box appears; in it, Levitch elaborates on what he was talking about and offers even more insight into his ideas.
He’s obviously refined a lot of his thoughts over the years, as evidenced by some of the repetition you’ll find in the bus tour from the New York City premiere of the film. This 45-minute piece shows Levitch talking from the top of a double-decker bus as it makes its way around lower Manhattan. While it can get boring at times (particularly when the bus gets stuck in traffic and Levitch doesn’t have much to say), his personality makes up for that. And most of the material is new, which is nice.
The five deleted scenes, however, don’t offer much, nor does the brief “Speed and the Buffalo” piece. The former shows Levitch by the water, talking about a lot of the same things he discusses in the film; the poor audio quality caused by the wind was probably the reason why the scenes weren’t used, although there’s no formal explanation. The latter simply offers some footage of Levitch approaching a couple buffalo before text appears that says it’s all from something called “Invasion of the Freedom Snatchers” (you can find Levitch listed among the stars of the film, along with our own Chris Gore).
The rest of the special features aren’t terribly exciting either. You get some footage from the Tribeca Film Festival awards ceremony, where Sandra Bernhard explains that she pushed for a special award for the film because she loved it so much. There are also a few scenes from the book tour Levitch went on to promote his book “Speedology;” here he comes off more like a New Age beat, reading from his book while someone else plays a stand-up bass next to him and offers sing-song echoes of his words. It’s mildly interesting.
The best of the rest is a seven-minute trailer from the film “Invisible City,” which features Levitch at the Burning Man festival. He proves that he can take his shtick anywhere as he riffs on the meaning behind the annual art community get-together out in the desert. It’s fun to watch, especially since it depicts a new place for Levitch to get lost in. Apparently there’s a full-length film in the works.
The obvious missing piece in the extras is Linklater. It would have been nice to hear what he had to say about the film, either through a commentary or a short interview. Perhaps he wanted to keep the spotlight on Levitch, but I would have enjoyed listening to him explain why he got involved with the project (other than his relationship with Levitch, who was in “Waking Life”) and how he feels about the guy’s theories. (I should point out, though, that there is a brief written piece from him in the booklet that comes with the DVD.)
Other than that, “Live From Shiva’s Dance Floor” is a film that keeps working even after repeat viewings. Levitch has a lot to say, and this video essay is certainly thought provoking. How much that’s worth is up to you.