Stephen Gillespie’s review published on Letterboxd:
This twelve and a half hour maximalist display of minimalist filmmaking is a fascinating blend of form and content. It is very satisfying to pick at the parts of it and note how they echo the whole. However, though I can intellectualise each element of the film - and note its consistent purpose - (and even be in awe of the achievement that is pulling this damn thing off) - that doesn’t mean I particularly like it.
Despite being overbearingly long, there is not much plot here. The film is built around showcasing two theatre groups, abstract stuff, and two separate people trying to get by on the streets of Paris - through performative means. The juxtaposition of those dedicating their life to performance for fun, and those who do so to get by, is a fruitful one. There’s a lovely commentary on class here where the past-time of the affected bourgeoisie is the survival method of an expanding underclass. These echoes are consistently interesting but, as with all of Out 1’s ideas, they are overwhelmed by its scope.
There are parts of Out 1 that are beyond stunning. However, at over twelve and a half hours you get into infinite monkey and typewriter territory: with this amount of film, you are bound to strike gold at points. A recurring element though, and a consistent delight, are the film’s deconstructions.
We frequently watch rather mesmerising sequences of abstract theatre workshops. The camera keeps rolling and the surrealism take over. The level of dedication to the madness is impressive and it is very hard to disengage - at least the first few times. Here, the length works, as you get pulled in and hypnotised by an irregular rhythm. These sequences feel alienating and strange, often indecipherable. Yet, after them we get a conversation between the actors involved (in fiction still) - the aforementioned deconstructions - in which they break down their thoughts on the performance.
This following of the utterly abstract with raw realism is beguiling, an artistic whiplash that always works. Through these conversations we glean meaning and learn character. They also force us to look for intent in the madness, in the seemingly random - which is Out 1’s main thrust - or effect. The film is so much about the permeable boundary between fiction and reality, between performance and identity, and between realism and surrealism. These deconstructions make us see the art as affected, while the everyday acts of performance go uncommented upon.
I did find myself wishing the film pulled out one more post-modern trick and ended with the actors discussing the actual film and deconstructing its successes and failures. This would have been the perfect coda.
What the film does instead is continue to develop characters over time - mostly through sheer exposure. The character work is sublime and proves that if you commit to showing somebody for so long you will imbue them with complete reality. In addition to this, it is also a mesh of conspiracy and confusion.
Really, Out 1 is the closest a film has got to feeling like an original work by Thomas Pynchon (whose work I love). The consistent use of layered and symbolic pop-culture referencing; the obsession with subcultures; the spiralling conspiracies that may be made up, but that do seem to exhibit signs everywhere; the overwhelming scope, it is all here and all very Pynchon. Though, Out 1 ends up more like Against the Day than like Gravity’s Rainbow, in which I am happier to have read or watched it than I was during the actual process. It’s also worth noting that The Crying of Lot 49 is one of Pynchon’s best and is very short. Scope can be a crutch.
Out 1 does have literary scope, though - and to its credit. I love the symbolism and the intentionality. I love how the focus on groups trying to work out a play we never see mirrors the film as it is constantly pupating or formative, always experimenting and never coalescing. That’s very intelligent. I love the story of Prometheus as a central symbol, for bourgeois malaise and also for weaponising our human capacity for performance to destructive ends. But also as a mirror for the filmmaking, this great power given to a minimal project, as if the camera is the fire of the gods and Out 1 is what we do with it. This intersecting meandering that still entrances and interests us despite its ultimate pointlessness is a great reflection on the human condition.
I love talking about Out 1. I love writing about Out 1. I love thinking about Out 1. There are parts of Out 1 that I think are completely perfect.
However, Out 1 is a self satisfied mess that works better as an academic exercise than it does as an actual film. It feels like the result of a great pub conversation with French New Wave directors where they said they should make a twelve and a half hour movie that encompasses everything yet is nothing. And this does sound very cool, especially if you were to hear about it in a Smokey Parisian Tabac - dark sunglasses covering up the bags under your eyes.
But, while I theoretically adore Out 1 - and am glad to have watched it - as a piece of cinema I found it tiresome. Each element is clever but the whole does not elevate these parts. And while the length is an integral part of the film’s themes and messaging, it doesn’t make them worthwhile. I can explain it. I can appreciate it. But, that doesn’t mean it works.