Out 1

Out 1 ★★★


Rating isn't terribly useful here, reflecting a 13-hour film in which I mostly love about seven hours but find the other six all but unwatchable. Indeed, Out 1 plays like a mashup of the Rivette films that bookend it, alternating between (and then eventually fusing) L'amour fou's exhaustive, nearly real-time portrait of theatrical rehearsal and the sinister-yet-playful dream logic of Céline and Julie Go Boating. Latter finally takes precedence, thankfully, but those first three episodes (which combined exceed the running time of 99.88% of the roughly 8400 features I've seen in my life*, even though they constitute less than half of Out 1!) very nearly sapped my will to live. For all I knew, it was gonna go on like that forever.

Bit of relevant personal background: I spent several years after high school doing semi-professional theater, took a bunch of acting classes both in and out of college, know that world quite well. And I have no quarrel with seeing it depicted onscreen in minute detail. My only complaint about the Topsy-Turvy sequence in which Gilbert drills three of his actors, line by line, methodically tweaking everything from posture to timing to his own script, is that it ends far too soon. But that's because it's exacting, which is what appeals to me about theater (and almost everything else, really). The touchy-feely, heavily improvisational "living theater" exercises that dominate Out 1, on the other hand, represent everything I despise about theater, both as an actor and as a spectator. An epic documentary about this approach to performance is pretty close to the last thing I would ever care to endure, and that's exactly what gigantic chunks of this film essentially are. Clearly, many people find this stuff fascinating. For me, watching Lonsdale and his crew flail around for something like 40 uninterrupted minutes, directing group energy into various pre-verbal channels, looking for all the world as if they're collectively auditioning three years late to play the apes in 2001's prologue, is sheer torture. Thebes troupe inspired a bit less agony than the Prometheus troupe, mostly because I like that bit of bongo-drum music they warm up to (which doubles as the film's theme song). But every time Rivette returns to either one—and, again, that's most of the initial five freakin' hours—cut to me sinking disconsolately into my chair. I became a cinephile in part to escape these fucking people!

Everything involving The Thirteen, however, is great fun. Given that Rivette apparently made the entire film without a screenplay, it's remarkable how coherently the intrigue seeps into and infects multiple strands of what barely passes for a narrative, with both Colin and Frédérique becoming quasi-radicalized in distinctly different ways. There's still some unproductive improv in the purely dramatic scenes, e.g. Colin and "Pauline" discussing raspberry tarts at length for no particular reason. (Rivette cuts briefly away from and then back to long scenes with some frequency; I assume many of those edits trim longueurs that even he felt were just too tedious.) But most of the pros handle it deftly—I'd swear Françoise Fabian had memorized her lines—and their not quite knowing the contours of the ostensible conspiracy to which some of their characters belong permits just the right degree of vagueness for the desultory destination Rivette has in mind. Also, is it customary to more or less shriek in delight at the film's final shot? Wasn't sure if that was meant to be funny, but I'm still laughing.

Had I seen this in 1971 (which of course almost nobody did), I'd have longed for Rivette to make a film that ditched all the tiresome backstage process and focused entirely on positing life as an unsolvable mystery offering deeply restricted access to tantalizing hints. And I'd have been gifted with exactly that film just three years later. Home run.

* Just for fun, here are the nine theatrically-released/-screened films I've seen that are longer than Out 1 episodes 1–3 (total running time: 5 hrs, 8 min). All of them except O.J. I saw in a theater! (You can throw in Dekalog if you want to count the whole thing as a film, though I've never watched all ten parts in quick succession.)

O.J.: Made in America (7 hrs, 43 min)
Sátántangó (6 hrs, 59 min)
Star Spangled to Death (6 hrs, 42 min)
The Best of Youth (6 hrs, 6 min)
Little Dorrit (5 hrs, 50 min)
Carlos (5 hrs, 39 min)
Napoléon (5 hrs, 32 min) [not sure the version I saw ran this long]
1900 (5 hrs, 17 min)

Oh, and also just for fun: Since I always have a deck of cards handy, I decided to try my hand at the Thirteens solitaire game. Won it outright on the fourth try. That seems kind of incredible to me, though I'm not enough of a math guy to figure out the odds against it. (Four matches per game on average; zero seems like a genuinely significant outlier.) Thomas remarks that he's never won. Did I get freakishly lucky?