In a brief prologue, we hear a narrative fable, a kind of mythical generative story for the film. The story concerns a man who is obsessed with seeing further and further into the distance; it is a kind of measure of his will to probe into the unknown. His longing for distance is described as specifically physical. This delineates for the film a basic truth, that through the physical act of seeing into the distance, one incorporates greater and greater spaciousness into one’s own body. The story is told in English subtitles, and is simultaneously narrated by a man’s voice, but spoken in a made-up language. Viewers of Rose’s other films will be familiar with this device; here it seems to indicate that the story is about a primitive, subconscious need, which can only provisionally be translated into everyday discourse. The images are of a suburban landscape viewed from the side window of a moving car. Embankments in the foreground often accentuate the near distance, while the far distance is glimpsed fleetingly in the gaps. The car’s shadow, which constantly lengthens and shortens as it falls over different terrain, seems the embodiment of the longing spoken of in the story.
In the film’s first section, we see a triple projection of three films side by side. The three images are pieced together to make one very wide view of a house and the beach which it faces. An immobile man is leaning out over the deck railing, looking across the road and far into the distance, out to sea. The images in the three screens rotate, so that the whole panoramic image does a slow 360 degree pan around the landscape five or six times, increasing our sense of the vastness of space surrounding the man. The three images are increasingly temporally displaced, however, so that we see dramatic differences between them of the light and of passing objects such as cars. Suspenseful music by Thomas Czerny-Hydzik builds tension. The section ends with a shot from the point of view of the man, looking over the deck railing.
In the film’s second section, we see handheld shots of a walk down to a pier overlooking Long Island Sound, with the imposing structure of the Throgg’s Neck Bridge dominating the scene. We see this walk in a variety of different kinds of light. Rose’s voiceover tells of how this particular place is a touchstone in his life, since he has been coming here to be alone or with close friends ever since he grew up near here. His memories of coming here at regular intervals from childhood into adulthood seem to function for him, I realized, almost like the cables on the bridge; as regular markers which measure for him the temporal distance. The bridge, because it is an immense object which looks big even when stretching far away, emphasizes the sense of scale and distance, and Rose speaks about how he came to feel the bridge was a totemic object in his life, protecting him. Despite this protection, in the next sentence he informs us that, prior to filming the scene, he has learned that his father has just died. The shot changes instantly to a nighttime shot of the bridge, the garish lights along the cabling making it look like an alien spaceship, filmed with a vibrating, shaky camera. This climactic shot of the familiar turned utterly strange suddenly highlights what all this obsession with distance is about: death.
The third section shows a large group of people, excitedly pointing up to the sky. Low music portends a cataclysmic event. They are evidently here to witness a total eclipse of the sun, which is the greatest perspective/distance effect we can see with the naked eye (aided by a pinhole device), in which the moon, oddly, is revealed to be the exact size necessary to neatly cover the face of the sun as it passes in front. At the climactic moment, we hear a tremendous wail of excitement rise from the crowd. The single image is replaced by a grid of many smaller images of the eclipse. The disappearance and reappearance of the sun is made into a rapid film loop, which flows all around the grid, so that the eclipse (and the sound of the crowd’s wailing) becomes a kind of rhythmically pulsating mandala, a totem of the living, breathing, cyclic nature of the universe, which I also read as a kind of transcendence of the father’s death in the previous section.
The next, brief section shows a 5X5 grid of film images with another 360 degree pan. The images are of two people on top of a rock overlooking a river (no bridge). This time, the pan turns vertically instead of horizontally. Somehow, this vertical motion seems to connect the figures more to the sky and to outer space, to the orbits referenced in the eclipse section.
The final, unforgettable section is a handheld shot as Rose climbs up the cable which is draped along the tops of the two towers of the Golden Gate bridge, followed by a magnificent long shot of the bridge. The climb creates a thrilling sensation of danger and vertigo. The long, asymptotic curve of the cable as it stretches way down from the towers to the span below reveals the suspension bridge as a monumental way of harnessing the power of the vertical to extend oneself horizontally. This section climaxes the film’s theme of the desire to make a bridge between oneself and the far distance. (The Golden Gate bridge is a long way from the Throgg’s Neck.)
“The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough” has an epic scope and ambition not often seen in independent, experimental film. Yet, like most experimental films, it is firmly grounded in the personal and the autobiographical. Rose manages to make a bridge between his personal story and the ancient, universal urge to connect with the vastness of the universe. That the film is at once grand and mythic and personal means that it’s form is in harmony with it’s content. By the time you reach the film’s final shot, you really feel the distance.