How Jacques Rivette’s ‘Out 1’ Invented Binge-Watching

How Jacques Rivette's 'Out 1' Invented Binge-Watching
How Jacques Rivette's 'Out 1' Invented Binge-Watching

Much has changed since Jacques Rivette’s eight-part, nearly 13-hour monstrosity “Out 1” made landfall in the U.S. in 2006. That screening, a two-day event at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image was a rarity made more so by the unusual circumstances of the film’s exhibition: Since no subtitled prints were available, it was shown with hand-cued English titles overlaid on top of the 16mm projection. (Since the paper where I reviewed the film has recently been shut down and that piece has disappeared from the archives, I’m republishing it in a separate post.) Now, as “Out 1” — subtitled “Noli Me Tangere” to distinguish it from Rivette’s “Out 1: Spectre,” a four-hour version that’s more of a radical remix than a straightforward compression — returns to New York, this time at the BAM Cinématek for a two-week run, it’s as an easily replicable DCP which will be rolling out across the country (including in Philadelphia this weekend) on its way to a DVD and Blu-ray release early next year. What was once the ultimate cinephile merit badge, a cross between the Holy Grail and an endurance test, is on the verge of becoming a permanent part of the digital slipstream — although I’m pretty sure anyone selling “I Survived ‘Out 1′” T-shirts would make a killing.

Update: “Out 1” is now — at last — available on Blu-ray from Kino, and streaming via Fandor.

Something else that’s changed in the last eight years: Binge-watching. Devoting 13 hours to a single work of art over the course of a few days is no longer the province of the “bug-eyed few,” as the New York Times put it in 2006: It’s how people spend the weekend after a new season of “Orange Is the New Black” drops on Netflix. In some ways, “Out 1,” which, to the extent it’s possible to summarize, concerns a young con artist (Jean-Pierre Léaud) trying to sniff out traces of a shadowy cabal known as The Thirteen, is the opposite of a binge show: Rather than seducing you to keep watching with twists and cliffhangers, it sheds plot at every turn, willfully perplexing its audience until you realize that uncertainty is the point and not an unintended byproduct. Although its length is forbidding, “Out 1” is more approachable than more overtly cryptic Rivette films like “Duelle” or “Le Pont du Nord.” Its length encourages, almost forces, you to settle into the journey rather than crave its conclusion — it ends not with a grand summation, but a suggestion that this story could quite literally go on forever.

In a way, it seems as if “Out 1’s” 44-year journey to the screen has culminated at precisely the right moment. Although its loose, improvisational storyline riffs on the squandered promise of ’60s counterculture and the Parisian student revolts of 1968, the movie feels tailor-made for the era of Reddit, where conspiracy theories take root and metastasize until they become freestanding artworks of their own. (“Spectre” ends with a shot of a impotent and fractured Léaud lost in his own suppositions, evoking a feeling similar to the one you get from falling down a particularly deep Reddit rabbit hole.) Although “Out 1’s” more endurance-testing sequences, especially a wordless avant-garde theater exercise that takes up half of the first 90-minute episode, are probably best seen in a theater, Rivette conceived the project for TV, and there’s something fitting about the fact that in a few months’ time, that’s where it will live forever. 

Reviews of “Out 1: Noli Me Tangere”

Glenn Kenny,
New York Times

The episodic structure notwithstanding, the movie does not feel like a television drama; the 773-minute “Out 1: Noli Me Tangere” is an authentic exercise in duration. Less than entirely receptive viewers may see the film only as a challenge to endurance. The half-day’s worth of film Mr. Rivette assembled after a six-week shoot was shot in 16 millimeter, which lends the film’s imagery a near-documentary “realism.” What plays out is a cinematic experience of life as performance, performance as life, reality as a construction and reality as someone else’s construction impinging on your own. The pace, which picks up and slows down throughout, is not some kind of perverse challenge to the audience. It is intrinsic to the inescapable atmosphere of the work. The viewer is best off to “just go with it,” as experienced heads used to say to novice LSD users.

Jonathan Romney, Film Comment

It’s worth defining exactly what “Out 1” is and isn’t. Sometimes known as “Out 1: Noli Me Tangere” (although the subtitle never appears in the credits), this is an eight-episode, 773-minute fiction film; it was originally intended as a TV serial, but was turned down by French broadcaster ORTF. It shouldn’t be confused with Rivette’s later four-hour re-edit of some of the same narrative material, under the title “Out 1: Spectre” (so called, apparently, because that film was a sort of “ghost” of “Noli Me Tangere,” which means “touch me not”). And while the complete “Noli Me Tangere” was never actually a TV serial, it has the shape of one: it arguably offers the first-ever case of a “Previously on…” sequence, with each episode (starting with the second) prefaced by a series of black-and-white stills from the preceding episode.

Michael Atkinson, Village Voice

Rivette has often centered his mega-films around the theater — but the evocation of illusion is ironic, because he distrusts the archness of theatrical drama, and the plays-within-movies never get past rehearsals. (His performances are always perfectly realistic.) “Out 1” is almost a documentary about artifice, a giant game of pretend, where a bullet wound oozes orange paint and Lewis Carrollisms are hidden in the streets of Paris. All that’s “real” are the cigarettes, approximately a million of them. Every inch a snide riposte to hippiedom (for which everything “meant” something), to the inconclusiveness of France’s May ’68 protests, and to the conventional omnipresence of the filmgoer, Rivette’s marathon is an end to itself. To watch it is like committing with unsavory friends to a heist you know nothing about. Still, if I were forced to be a critic about it, I’d have to admit that, for all its immoderation and essentiality, the film is not even Rivette’s premier achievement. It certainly doesn’t have the consistency, magical resonance, élan, and, yes, progression of “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” made three years later, at one-quarter the running time. Still, as I say, the rules with the long-lost debauch of “Out 1” are different, and your waking day spent with it will be yours alone.

Melissa Anderson, Artforum

Conspirators are revealed, subplots braid and unravel, pseudonyms are adopted and abandoned, characters speak backward, the screen intermittently fades to black, and the whole cine-marathon ends abruptly in a salute to both wisdom and bafflement. Or, as Rivette himself said of this unequaled project, “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.” As a spectator, I also found myself devoured by “Out 1,” which dictated my diurnal activities for most of last week. But the experience, rather than annihilating, proved reinvigorating, a reminder of the rewards of succumbing totally to a work that breaks and remakes all preconceived notions of what it means to watch.

Bilge Ebiri, They Live by Night

Despite its seeming plotlessness, all four of the initial strands of “Out 1” involve individuals and groups trying to impose their will, trying to get others to do something — the theater troupes in the pursuit of a kind of collective art, the two con artists in the pursuit of individual gain. And the many faces of influence — the ways in which we try to force, cajole, convince, trick others into doing what we want — becomes a central, unifying theme in Rivette’s film. The correlation between this conception of influence and the job of a director presumably wasn’t lost on the filmmaker. Similarly, Rivette seems keenly aware of the inherently chaotic nature of making a film, and how it contrasts sharply with the closed off, hermetically sealed environment of the theater, where all sorts of dreams and ideals can be played out in a controlled world. A film about the theater, “Out 1” thus becomes a spiraling narrative about a Utopian milieu.

Jordan Hoffman, Guardian

Rivette completed “Out 1: Noli Me Tangere” without a script, and the actors were left to work through the development of their characters on their own. What we get is a remarkable record of a kind of hazy art happening. There are no explicit references to the events of May 1968 (a title card says April 1970, so a winsome remark about “last spring” must mean something else) but there is a pervasive sense of a dissolving dream. The tight groups eventually spin away, forming smaller bodies or disappearing altogether. (We’ll later find out that Lili and Thomas were once a couple, so we’re already catching things on the decline. As an audience member, taking the trip to witness all this is really quite a thing. It’s also frustrating as hell. This is a world away from a Netflix binge-watch. A season of “Mad Men” may have the same running time, but the propulsive plot engine is traded here for a deep, dark dive into the zone.

Kenji Fujishima, The Playlist

Thankfully, “Out 1” proves to be worth celebrating beyond just its newfound widespread availability. Here, for one thing, is a film that not only looks back to silent-era serials like Louis Feuillade’s “Les Vampires” in its gradual unfolding of a story over a lengthy time span, but, in its interweaving of four plot threads, anticipates the complex serialized stories that have become just about commonplace on television. Appropriate, because Rivette originally intended this mammoth work for the tube. Even more audaciously, Rivette didn’t have much of a script for “Out 1” beyond a diagram of character intersections; much of what his large cast does and says is purely improvisational, caught on the wing in long takes by a camera acute to the nuances of its performers. That explains how remarkably lifelike much of the film seems — essentially pushing much farther with improvisatory acting than even American contemporary John Cassavetes dared.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, A.V. Club

“Out 1” can sometimes seem too real (see: an acting troupe’s intensely physical improv exercise, shot in a single take that runs almost half an hour), but it’s mostly about the unreal: the world of theater, or maybe the world as a theater, full of masks and assumed identities, with actors playing actors, rehearsals doubled by small-time cons, and characters fading away into their obsessions. Here, that old prop of paranoid logic, the blackboard covered with obscure references and circled words, becomes a window into a character’s yearnings, the dots connected because each link represents a step closer to fulfillment, if not closure. At one point, filmmaker Éric Rohmer appears in an extended cameo, wearing one of the most fake beards ever committed to celluloid. “Out 1” is the kind of movie that invents its own dimension, and here, a bad disguise constitutes reality. It’s all make-believe and play — and one can’t help but wonder whether the riots of May ’68, which hang over the movie like an overcast sky, were too.

Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed

So “Out 1” is long, yes — it’s super goddamn long — but not in vain, because it uses time like another tool in its arsenal, like music and framing, accruing its own history. And it’s funny that for all that “we’re in an ADD age,” we’re actually a lot more accustomed to longform storytelling now than when “Out 1” was made, with our marathon viewing and serialized dramas, some of which take just as long to get going as Rivette’s movie. Watching 13 hours of something is treated less as an act of endurance than one of indulgence, described with the same term used for scarfing an entire tray of cookies — bingeing. “Out 1” shouldn’t be so scary.

David Ehrenstein, Fandor

“All power to the imagination” was one of May ’68’s most memorable slogans, and “Out 1” is a perfect example of what it would mean in practice. Its elements are a seemingly disparate group of people — actors, intellectuals and societal outcasts — brought together and pulled apart by circumstances both accidental an deliberate that revive a utopian fantasy of that era, proposed—and then abandoned — by a secret society known as “Les 13.” What the group may or may not have wanted to do is never made entirely clear. But this lack of specificity is more apparent than real. Like everyone who went into the streets in May ’68 “Les 13” wanted to change the world — and failed. This led to the inevitable question “What now?” “Out 1” is thus a search for answers — and further questions. Let’s start with the title. Rivette chose “Out” because “In” had become annoyingly popular. As for “1” it suggests a beginning — the first of a series. There was of course no “Out 2.” But then there was no sequel to May ’68 either — though the left has longed for one ever since. But as Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers” (2005) shows, be careful what you wish for. A May ‘ 68 participant, Garrel dealt with those of his generation who weren’t necessarily drawn to political movements but caught up in the organized anarchy of the day — street demonstrations, taunting the police — and hiding from same when pursued. “Out 1” shows none of this, just the calm after the storm.

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