The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Out 1 (1971/France/dir. Jacques Rivette & Suzanne Schiffman) appeared at #46 on my original list.
What it is • Two theatrical troupes rehearse - if that's the proper term for their loose, playful methodology (one bemused director, played by Michael Lonsdale, remarks that their production of Prometheus Unbound has forgotten all about Prometheus). A pretty shopkeeper (Bulle Ogier, whom critic J. Hoberman described as "delightfully cannabisated") spends most of her time lounging with purposeful-looking layabouts who apparently have some vague idea about starting an underground newspaper. Two strange, charismatic outcasts (Jean-Pierre Leaud and Juliet Berto) enact cons - one by pretending he is a deaf-mute harmonicist, the other by flirting with men until their guard is down so she can steal their cash. These fragments circulate independently of one another - either amusingly or frustratingly depending on the viewer's mood - until they slowly, surely begin to coalesce. An actress (Hermine Karagheuz) passes a mysterious note to the young con man (an action she will later deny). The con woman steals letters from a bourgeois household which refer to murky, possibly dangerous liaisons. Connections are drawn to Honore de Balzac's History of the Thirteen, with its enigmatic conspirators drawing connections between disparate events, and Lewis Carrol's The Hunting of the Snark, a nonsense poem in which we strive for deeper meaning at our own peril. Is Out 1 a coded message whose non sequiturs and shaggy-dog storytelling conceal a fascinating secret (perhaps a metaphor for May '68, a meditation on dreams and reality, or a revelation of subconscious truths too uncanny to name)? Or is it a puzzle that purposefully doesn't add up, teasing and tricking us into creating links out of thin air, when the true pleasure is to be found in sitting back and letting the massive movie's sense of a playfully unfolding present wash over us? If both answers appeal to your sense of cinematic adventure, then this 13-hour opus (aired as a miniseries in the early seventies, and seldom screened since) may be for you.
Why I like it •
Both answers appeal to my sense of cinematic adventure. My first viewing of the film remains one of my seminal moviegoing experiences. After decades during which it was completely unseen, Out 1 materialized in New York for a single public screening in the fall of 2006. I chickened out and kicked myself later for missing the event, vowing it wouldn't happen again. But it almost did...six months later, I happened upon a listing for a second screening, the night before it was to take place. Naturally, it had already sold out. But I rushed to the theater the next day and fortunately found someone who had bought a ticket but was unable to attend and was willing to sell it to me. This screening was split over two days, and I settled into my seat nervously, trying not to let the anticipation build up too much, hoping the film would be a hypnotic trip rather than an endurance test. As the theater troupe chanted and moaned and crawled over one another for 20 minutes, I began to fear the latter but ultimately I fell into the former. There was a thrilling sense of curiosity and endless possibility in that theater, as we all underwent Rivette's mindfuck together. Well, that was obviously a unique experience - how did the film hold up when I watched it recently (for only the second time ever), in preparation for a video essay and this review? The first half felt less substantial than I remembered, intermittently interesting footage that was seemingly collected rather than cut together. But the second half seemed even stronger, less mystifying than my first go-around (in fact that strange last shot made a Mulholland Drive-esque sort of sense to me this time). Of course this time I was viewing Out 1 in less-than-ideal circumstances: on a computer, with subtitles somewhat detached from the main screen, marathoned in a single day (which either is or is not advantageous depending on your viewpoint). Even so, I was captivated by Juliet Berto's engaging and often hilarious mugging, Jean-Pierre Leaud's ingenious and expressive reaction shots, the gleeful frenzy of the ensemble as the rumored conspiracy actually seems to kick in, and especially those dark, truly chilling shots of Bulle Ogier and Bernadette Lafont reciting simple questions and answers - with intense repetition they take on the trancelike power of a black magic incantation. As I wrote in a journal after my first screening, "...the work has a kinetic, free quality so that the tension and sense of anticipation heighten the immediacy of the moment rather than overwhelm." If this is what you look for in a movie, welcome to the feast.
More from me • Last year I participated in a video essay project exploring the film, and created "The Language of Birds", a playful back-and-forth video with fellow video essayist Covadonga G. Lahera. After that, I incorporated clips from Out 1 and Jacques Rivette's Duelle in "Two and One", a video montage with Brian Eno's music. I have also used the blog to reprint a 2007 IMDb comment I left the night of that first screening, which conveys my first, bewildered, intoxicated, uncertain impression.
How you can see it • Out 1: noli me tangere (the 13-hour cut of the footage as discussed above) streams on Fandor, and has recently been released on a great R1 DVD/blu-ray set along with Out 1: Spectre (the 4-hour alternate cut of this same footage) and a making-of documentary. It was also incorporated into the Arrow box set release of several Jacques Rivette films (2015 was one of the most celebratory years in the director's career; coincidentally, he passed away early in 2016 - here is my tribute, including some words on Out 1).
What do you think? • Is Out 1 more Balzac or Carroll? Is the slow takeoff part of the overall charm, laying the groundwork for the more immediately exciting material? Should Rivette have tightened up the project so that it doesn't take as long to get going? Actually, he did do this, offering an alternate cut called Out 1: Spectre; the long version I'm reviewing, the only cut I've seen, is technically called Out 1: Noli me tangere - so have you seen Spectre, and if so, what did you think? What is the significance of the shot which is repeated in the end, of the actress turning to look at a statue? Does it suggest anything about the four hours that have unfolded between these bookended moments? Do you believe "the thirteen" are real? What is their purpose, if so? Do you see any links to May '68, especially with all the characters referring to something of significance that happened "two years ago" (the film begins in April 1970)? How does Out 1 compare to other Rivette films? Have you seen other films which have a similar sense of coming together, being invented, as you are watching them unfold on the screen? Do you view this movie, and maybe other movies like it, as a very long feature or as a serialized miniseries? Has marathoning TV shows - a practice that has become very common in recent years, with DVDs and especially streaming - changed the way you experience long feature films? Has it affected their novelty at all? Who the hell is Pierre?
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Yesterday: Chinatown (#45)
Tomorrow: Rosemary's Baby (#43)