Prologue – the man who could not see far enough
(The man who could not see far enough (1981) uses literary, structural, autobiographical, and performance metaphors to construct a series of tableaux that evoke the act of vision, the limits of perception, and the rapture of space. The film ranges in subject from a solar eclipse shot off the coast of Africa to a hand-held filmed ascent of the Golden Gate Bridge, and moves, in spirit, from the deeply personal to the mythic. In this introduction, a voice speaks an invented language while the shadow of a moving car is projected out onto a landscape at sunset. These titles appear to translate the narration)
Once upon a time
There was a man who could not see far enough.
There was nothing wrong with his eyes,
Nor did he need to see something in particular in the distance.
It was just that he wanted to see,
Physically-with his own naked eyes,
As far as possible.
He felt an inexplicable hunger
As if it were through his eyes
That a special nourishment passed,
One which filled his entire body with a wonderfull fullness.
It was a physical craving-
Too physical to be satisfied by the refined stars,
The constant horizon,
The simple surface of the sky.
His need seized upon things that could be felt in an almost brutal way,
That could be absorbed, as if,
In witnessing the thing in the distance,
The entire intervening space were inverted into his body-
The body of a creature whose eyes beheld its own infinite interior.
Often he had the sense
Not so much of looking at
But of seeing beyond things,
Of observing not only that a tree lay in the distance
But also that it indicated a space beyond itself,
That it was a kind of visual oasis
Marking the place where vision rested
Before reimbarking on its quest.
Some said that the universe was curved,
That even light would return to its source.
That there were not mysteries beyond mysteries,
That all would ultimately be seen,
Caused in him a profound dismay.
Certain spaces held great power for him-
The crests of hills overlooking the sea,
Sudden doorways opening into light,
The act of seeing-
Of losing himself in space and finding himself in vision,
Of embracing and being embraced by an immensity of distance,
Was an index of his will to know.
Distance summoned him.
He felt perpetually bound.
Part Two – Throggs Neck
This material was shot while I was walking down to the Long Island Sound from the house where I grew up in Queens. I’ve been taking this walk for about twenty years, and it’s become something of a ceremony for me. When we first moved here, this place was a forest. Then they put up apartment projects, and one of these had this pier built. I found it and starting coming here. Very few other people ever came out here. Once in a while fishermen would come here and people used to come occasionally to swim, but most of the time I had it all to myself and I felt very free here.
I usually came down here at night. When I was in high school I came here just about every night with a friend of mine. We’d come down here to look at the sunsets; we’d come down here to look at the dawn; we came to look at hurricanes and storms; we’d come to look at the rain; we came here to celebrate; we came when we were feeling depressed. We came just about on any pretext.
I came here while I was living with my family. I continue to come long after having moved out and having lived in a number of other cities and after having seen a good part of the rest of the world. This place is still very much of a touchstone for me.
I can remember all the times I have been here and I can anticipate the times when I will be here, and all of my selves can sort of convene and become aware of each other, of a common selfhood.
What draws me here, what makes it such a powerful spot, is the bridge, the Throggs Neck Bridge. I watched this bridge being built as a kid and it was quite spectacular. There were huge pile drivers that broadcast explosive blasts all up and down the river, and gargantuan cables hanging all over the sky, and these glorious twin mythic towers rising up out of the water.
When it was finished, it was quite magnetic, like Mr. Fuji is for the Japanese. You could see it for miles around, and whenever we took talks we were inevitably drawn to the bridge. From this vantage point, it’s far enough away to have a kind of mystique, a presence, because of its distance, and yet you’re still close enough to it to get a sense of its massiveness, its scale, and its power.
So we used to go down to the bridge. Two miles downriver, off-screen, is the Whitestone Bridge, and on a clear evening, far-off, you can see the lights of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River. Part of my sense of who I am is bound up with this sense of looking out and over at the bridge.
I have come to think of them, of the bridges, as my own personal totems, and I have come to feel reassured, and even protected, by them.
I was just about to come down here, to record the sound for this film, when the telephone rang. It was the hospital. My father just died.