Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives Pt. 3: The Bank

She is in the blue distance
She’s a visiting wonder
He’s in the blue distance
He’s a dream come true
Am I sleeping and weeping
Or just turning over?

-Blue Gene Tyranny, “Leading a Double Life”

Love: unfinished portraiture, the joyous transgressive unknown, Bonnie and Clyde, a car full of holes.
Love: unfinished portraiture, the transgressive unknown, Bonnie and Clyde, a car full of holes.

(Check out Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 here and here.)

The small repeating cast of Perfect Lives, partly a limit imposed by the necessary training required to learn how to read Ashley’s unusual notation, partly a limit of the budget, partly a limit of the cramped confines of the performance space in which it was originally done before its finished incarnation as a TV program, is, like any artistic limitation, not a thing to be written off as entirely a function of its economic circumstances without extensive considerations. Ashley sees limitations in everything up to the medium of the word so that he can assess them to suit his purposes.

That Ashley himself plays numerous characters and the narrator in the TV production is a carefully employed device. As the narrator, ostensibly a third person omniscient one for lack of a more comprehensive term to describe it, he is, like any other narrator, within the world of the narrative, God. He holds his creations loosely, but at the same time, in order to come to the creation of “art”, must structure their existence through the employment of language-verbal, written, visual, musical, or otherwise. When he steps out the position of omniscience, he’s always the character within the storyline of a given episode constricting the thrust of the story into codification. In episode two, he’s the supermarket owner who sets up and recreates the space of the supermarket; in this episode he’s the clergyman who marries Ed and Gwyn after their voyage into the night in a “car filled with holes.”

Ashley as narrator/God. Note that as with most of Episode 3's visuals, he's positioned in a two-shot with himself. Also note that the neon lines behind him this time are cleanly intersecting.
Ashley as narrator/God. Note that as with most of Episode 3’s visuals, he’s positioned in a two-shot with himself. Also note that the neon lines behind him this time are cleanly intersecting.
Ashley as the person marrying Ed and Gwyn.
Ashley as the person marrying Ed and Gwyn. Note that his hand is moving up and down to “conduct” the ceremony.

Similarly, Jill Krosen and David Van Tieghem, Ed and Gwyn, play both the old couple in episode 2 and Ed and Gwyn in this episode, drawing possible parallels; which situation is which ones past and/or future or could it all be a coincidence?

Ed and Gwyn engage both in the crime/art of the bank heist in this episode, and in perhaps an altogether more dangerous activity that could likely get them locked up far longer than taking the money, if not literally-they plan to get married. The shots of the road have gotten so tight by this point in the opera they’re almost unrecognizable as being much other than an abstraction of texture, and when we see lines on them, they’re sealant. Patchworks. Where they aren’t, they’re the playful but fleeting amendment of chalk.

The faint line of the law, the more present line of the patchwork.
The faint line of the law, the more present line of the patchwork.
Chalk line on concrete
Chalk line on concrete.

The libretto echoes the visuals and vice versa as usual.

…So, today, they leave in the dark, car

full of holes. No destination or flowers or ring. Ed and Gwyn in the front seat, and

Dwayne and me in the back. If they are engaged,

it’s someplace in the middle of the night that only they can know, and they

bury their tracks.

That’s love. I’m sure it’s night, the engagement.

Starry skies is where Ed takes ’em. (He’s no fool.) Now, one hand on the wheel,

and the

other in Gwyn’s lap, he drives (us) toward an understanding

An “understanding” in Perfect Lives is an enclosure, another point where language seems to solidify that mysterious “ball of hot stuff” only to get away. The universe of Perfect Lives is an accordion that keeps expanding and contracting in seemingly but not actual identical geometric divisions that collapse into a compressed unity only so they can expand again to make strange music. Love here is the barreling forward blind in the night against the anxieties of entrapment. The video shows repeated imagery of prison bar formations over both Ed and Gwyn; their visit to the church is visually echoed in the architecture of the bank.

Gwyn is
Gwyn is “wrapped in danger.”
Ed is locked in the future.
Ed is locked in the future, alone, a “perfect” (closed) “one”.

This imagery of bars is echoed in the bank vault where the heist takes place. The camera circles the heist from 5 directions (that I counted anyhow), and visually separates Duane and Buddy from Ed and Gwyn in the chronology of events the same way the partition of the seats separates them in the car. The heist in itself would seem to constitute its own prison break from the banality of the bank. (“Gwyn works at the bank. That’s her job. She mostly helps people count their money. She likes it.”)

Free this time.
Behind bars the next.
Behind bars the next.

The escape from something into the open freedom of not-quite something to return again to something. The money is there, then it isn’t, then it is. Cages of language are escaped briefly into the thrill and anxiety of uncertainty until they can be reformed into hopefully more amenable cages. “Underneath what it means is what it means,” as the opera eloquently puts it. The old couple at the supermarket can’t escape into anxious thrills and the unknowing (or is it not-knowing?), but Ed and Gwyn can. He “throw(s) (him)self at the feet of (her) recklessness.”

The interjections of the chorus in this episode are mostly in the form of a hilariously loopy love song, a pastiche of early 20th century American pop music; Ashley is celebrating its silly pointlessness as being exactly the point. It sounds a bit off, but then-so does love.

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