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Battlepigs of Mississippi

February 22, 2014

I write from the scene itself, The Bridge. I am in the office where Greg Kelly and his zealous minions lay out the battle plans for art in Charlottesville. This is the nerve center, where it all comes together. Anthony Restivo is sleeping just a few steps away in the gallery. I can only hope he will not wake up, mistake me for a burglar, and bludgeon me to death. There are risks in this endeavor; I take them willingly.

Today I did spend some time just sitting in the gallery. Not very long, less than an hour. We both sat facing the windows, watching day’s end, Anthony on one bench and I on the other. It was very pleasant. And I finally became aware of a central aspect of this work. All this time I had thought myself the observer of a performance, dutifully jotting notes in my imitation Moleskin and maintaining a strict scientific objectivity, but the real observer has always been Anthony Restivo himself. Every day he has looked out through that great expanse of glass at the passing world. Gazing out at Spudnuts and the bustling confluence of Graves, Monticello, and Avon, watching the passing cars and pedestrians, packs of feral dogs and loose chickens, he has been as a recording angel of the scene. And when people come in he silently observes them too. Freed from social convention by his special status, he has been able to stare deeply into his subjects and ask probing questions about who they are, receiving frank and thoughtful reply. Far Off and All Aflame is a work of observation. We can only hope that when the observer breaks his silence he will be able to tell us what he has learned and not just start barking like a dog, driven mad by the horror of it all.

–from “Restivo Watch Day 18: From the Inside” (2/22/11)

The title is a feint, there is nothing here of swinish appeal or to pique the interest of the military-minded southern gentleman. Inspired by Day 17, and dispirited by all else, I have got the inclination to let meanings slip away from me like sand through the hands of someone with a handful of sand and no desire to keep it.  I saw Louis Malle’s Black Moon the other night. If I say “dreams” and “Alice in Wonderland” and “1975” you now know a lot of what the movie is like, except that it is good. A movie like might not be good, but this one is, very much. It was shot by Sven Nykvist, so you know it looks good. There is a unicorn in it, but a chubby little short-legged unicorn. There are women with gas masks and guns. Animals talk, and they’re assholes. Louis Malle has made a lot of terrific films but somehow he never comes to mind, for me but also for a lot of people I think, as a great director. Maybe he never established enough of an identity for himself, something for us to latch on to. Elevator to the Gallows and Atlantic City are two other favorites from him. Miles Davis and Burt Lancaster.

I remember those quiet afternoons in the gallery with Anthony, watching the sunlight. His project made something special out of that space. Some people are very keen on peace and tranquility, and I never understood that. To dull for aspiration. But I found some kind of peace and tranquility there that I could appreciate, that I long for now.  It was not dull. If Far Off had gone on longer no doubt it would have become infested with yoga. Eventually, there will be no more yoga. Eventually, there will be no more world.

I remember wanting to write a post about Burt Lancaster but what can you say about him? So obvious and so mysterious at the same time. A masculine pathos of hilariously tragic dimension, yet with dignity. They don’t make Burt Lancasters anymore, the movie business has lost that genius. They used to make dozens. They all had to be locked away in a back lot somewhere, all but the one, so he could be a star.

When meaning slips free, it seldom falls far before falling into the orbit of a star.

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