Out 1

Out 1 ★½

"Numbers and their mystery."

Or

"I'm so bored… I'm bored. This has been going on such a long time. I'm sick of it… I'm bored! I'm so fucking bored! I'm sick of this. It's been going on too long."


First of all, right off the bat I want to admit that I'm afraid anything I try to write here will be at the risk of coming off like a complete philistine. In fact I've been dreading the thought of writing this review ever since I realized I wasn't enjoying Out 1 and the prospects of it improving grew slimmer (somewhere around the third episode), at least to the extent that it was going to be difficult for anything, no matter how good, to completely make up for the tedium of what had already transpired. Because when you get right down to it, this thing is thirteen hours long, and for me to give myself over to something for that amount of time, whatever it is, it better be worth it.

Consequentially, the length does play a part in my rather harsh reaction and subsequent rating. Is everything about this film bad? Hardly. In fact, there are some great bits scattered throughout, But the cumulative effect is one of frustration at having to wade through all the tedium to reach them, to the degree that the good bits even start to become less enjoyable because I knew they would be over all to quickly and I was preparing myself for another long stretch of boredom. I should note here that it's not like I was even binge-watching these episodes (averaging about 90-100 minutes each). Rather I often found it a struggle to even get though a single episode in one sitting, and ended up watching about half of one at a time.

That the film's challenging length and structure was clearly an aspect of it's overall design on Rivette's part (as the self-reflexive dialogue quoted above suggests), doesn't really make it any less frustrating. Rather the opposite, for it feels like there's something almost antagonistic about the conceit, making the experience less of a film than a dare, one which I would go as far as to suggest contributes to the film's outsized reputation. Which isn't to say I think that everyone merely "pretends" to like it, but I do believe that the film's near-mythic reputation does rely at least in part on it's long-time scarcity, as well as it's length. It is, in effect, the ultimate cinephile gauntlet throw-down. Are you man enough for Out 1? the film all but seems to challenge the viewer. Much like Bela Tarr's Satantango (to evoke another daunting auteur beloved to cinephiles who's appeal has largely alluded me), Out 1 all but seems designed to separate the "men" from the "boys".

Yet rather than Tarr's brand of glacial, endurance-testing slowness, Rivette's film reminded me far more of David Lynch's Inland Empire, another film with a large enthusiastic cult following that I personally have an enormous dislike for (far more so than Out 1 in fact. I consider Inland Empire one of the worst films I've ever seen). Like Lynch's film, Out 1 strikes me as a supremely self-indulgent, aimless work. Incidentally, both were largely improvised by their cast, which indicates something about where my general taste and sensibility diverges significantly from Rivette and Lynch's methods. Much as I worship at the altar of the well-crafted pop song, from Tin Pan Alley to ABBA, and abhor the tuneless noodling of free jazz, the Grateful Dead, or Animal Collective, I think ultimately the type of freeform, improvisational sprawl Rivette is going for is really just very much at odds with what I generally look for in cinema.

It's worth noting here, that of the Rivette films I've seen, even those I've enjoyed, there hasn't been a single one that I didn't think should have shorter (also, considering that Rivette himself considered my favorite that I've seen, Merry-Go-Round, to be probably his worst says something about how at odds we are about what constitutes good cinema). I found my initial exposer to his work, La Belle Noiseuse, to be a bit of an interminable slog. But having subsequently enjoyed both Merry-Go-Round and Up, Down, Fragile, albeit with a few reservations, I was ready to chalk this up to my simply "not being ready" for Rivette the first time. Alas, Out 1 shows my initial impulses to have been all too prescient.

Yet, perhaps somewhat strangely, these frustrations don't make me want to give up on the director completely. Rather, if anything, they actually make watching more of his films a higher priority for me, if for no other reason than to find the Rivette film that completely "clicks" for me. Because I feel like it's out there, frustratingly just out of reach. As I said above, there are some really great bits scattered throughout Out 1, mostly those involving Juliet Berto and (especially) Jean-Pierre Leaud. I would even venture to say that cut down to a more manageable length, there could be a really good film here (which makes me seriously wonder if I wouldn't enjoy Out 1: Spectre a lot more. Maybe at some point I'll work up the strength to confront this material again and find out.)

As it stands, I ultimately find it a far more interesting work to read about (Jonathan Rosenbaum's essays on the film have been particularly helpful) and to an extent even to think about, than to actually watch. A lot of it comes down to fact that, yes, so much of the running time in given over to those extended theater rehearsals, which cumulatively serve as a practically comprehensive compendium of exactly the type of irritating improv exercises and obnoxious "experimental" theater tropes that you honestly couldn't pay me to sit through in real life (it also took me well into the second episode to realize there were actually two theater troupes, which just goes to show how much I struggled to pay attention during these sequences).

What can I say, I'm just really not a fan of these oh-so-'60s "happenings", "Living Theater"-type bullshit (if the film really is, as Rosenbaum says, the ultimate portrait of post-'68 disillusionment, it actually makes me far less sympathetic with the counterculture if this was the type of shit they were wasting their time on). I wasn't at all surprised to read that Rivette was influenced by Peter Brook, because there were moments when I was reminded explicitly of Marat/Sade, which I found challenging and difficult enough at normal feature film length, but when expanded upon the way Rivette does here it just becomes nearly unbearable at times.

A lot of this probably comes down to something Rosenbaum observes, which is that Rivette doesn't differentiate between "good" acting and "bad" acting, for him everything an actor does is by it's nature fascinating, which is something I frankly cannot sympathize with. Not only do I not share his fascination with acting for it's own sake, I don't find simply filming actors acting to be cinematic. Cinema is dialogue, mis-en-scene, lighting, editing, and yes acting... all working in tandem to create an autonomous whole. Here Rivette merely points his camera haphazardly at his actors and lets them flail away (and only Leaud is really a compelling enough presence to make all of his onscreen mannerisms inherently interesting).

Of course, Rivette isn't the only director to take this approach. The closest comparison points here would probably be John Cassavetes and the early work of Paul Morrissey, both of whom were capable to making fascinating, accomplished work in this particular vein. But here's the thing: even at his sloppiest (think the weaker, indulgent parts of Faces) Cassavetes was using his distinctive cinematic style as a means to a very specific end. He was unfailing interested in depicting the fraught, emotional push-pull tensions and interactions happening between people, to create an effect of greater realism. Whereas Morrissey was interested in the performances of outsized, larger-than-life personalities who knew they were playing for the camera. Rivette, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have the same focus or goals in mind.

In fact, Out 1's unfocused aimlessness ultimately becomes it's own point, which is where it loses me. If there isn't any reason for anything happening, why am I wasting so much time watching it? Surely realism isn't the film's intention per se, or even saying anything about "life" in a grander, more abstract sense. Rather, it's essentially an acting exercise for it's own sake. We watch these characters (or more accurately "actors", really) obviously making things up as they go along, improvising, often clumsily. If they happen to stumble upon something that works, great (as is sometimes the case with Berto or Leaud), if not, it doesn't matter.

This, essentially, sums up my problem with the film. It's almost purely process-oriented, and process-oriented art in any form just isn't my thing (whether listening to a jam band or watching actors improvising). I suppose that it's sort of interesting how the theater troupes' exercises gradually evolve from purely physical, pre-linguistic performances to more conventional, delineated "acting" and then to "real life" for the last part of the film where the characters hypothetically aren't "acting" anymore (but actually are). But as with almost everything interesting about the film, it is either incidental (for example, Leaud's impossibly sweet, impromptu declaration of love for Bulle Olgier's character, or Berto's scene in the hotel room with the guy she picked up), or suggested by something outside of the work itself.

Take the film's contextualization within the post-'68 milieu as suggested by Rosenbaum for example. Although he describes the film as the ultimate depiction of the aftermath of the '68 riots, I would argue that Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore is ultimately the far more resonant and comprehensive work (not to mention Eustache's film is an example of a very long movie that earns every minute of it's protracted running time). Leaud's performances in both films do create an interesting counterpoint to one another, in that his mannerisms are not dissimilar (are they ever, really?) but his romantic obsessiveness that plays as puppyish and charming in Out 1 takes on a far more complex and darker edge in Eustache's masterpiece (it might also be telling that The Mother and the Whore was carefully scripted to appear "natural" where Rivette's film was completely improvised yet rarely feels "real").

Rosenbaum has also compared the film to the work of Thomas Pynchon, which I can actually understand, at least to the extent that it's most intriguing aspects are it's most tantalizingly Pynchon-esque (incidentally, I can now also see the influence Rivette most likely had on Alex Ross Perry, an avowed Out 1 fanatic, when the latter was making his debut, the very loose Gravity's Rainbow adaptation Impolex. Ross' film is similarly difficult to get through, although it at least has the benefit of being barely only an hour long). Rivette shares with Pynchon and other first-wave postmodernist writers a fascination with conspiracies and secret societies, here as in Pynchon's work most often intentionally leading to dead ends.

By proxy, I can even see some similarities between Rivette's film and my favorite novel, David Foster Wallace's Pynchon-indebted Infinite Jest, at least in the sense that both are intimidatingly long and feature a dense assortment of different characters who's various story lines gradually converge (or sometimes don't). They're even structured somewhat similarly, in that they start with a number of disparate tangents which gradually start to come together towards the middle before fragmenting again in the second half. Having seen Out 1, I can now better understand readers' frustrations with Infinite Jest, where the various plot lines never quite come together in a more conventional sense and much is left unresolved, events happening somewhere before or after the novel's chronology.

I wonder, are Wallace's lengthy digressions on the intricacies of tennis as irritating for some readers as Rivette's endless scenes of theater exercises were to me? Here's the big difference though: While Wallace's book is densely plotted, it is also very carefully structured in a very deliberate way that doesn't by it's nature correlate at all with the intentionally haphazard and improvisational nature of Out 1's production. Also, while tennis or Alcoholics Anonymous may not be inherently interesting to me, Wallace's writing makes these subjects engaging. He writes complex, detailed backstories for his characters that bring them to life in a way Rivette's actors here never do. Out 1's character's are always actors saying lines, never people (this is also what separates Rivette's work here from that of Cassavetes).

Above all, Infinite Jest is a book that is saying things about life and contemporary society and what it feels like to be a human being living at the beginning of the 21st century. Out 1 maybe, maybe is saying something about how France felt in the aftermath of '68, but for me at least it never remotely begins to connect on an emotional level. Not to mention, for all the film's vaguely postmodern overtures, it stylistically has almost nothing in common with Pynchon or Wallace's heightened, deadpan absurdity or clever dialogue . But anyway, I'm afraid I'm getting off track, writing about what Out 1 isn't instead of what it is. Because what it is, for the most part, is frankly boring. I will say, as a diehard corduroy pants enthusiast, that I appreciated seeing so many on display in Rivette's film. It's a shame, because otherwise I'm afraid this emperor has no clothes.

Rating: 25/100

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