desultory notes on Out 1
May 23, 2016 § 3 Comments
1. The film’s perplexities seem so often to boil down to questions of length – of expectation & form. Out 1 was apparently made originally for French TV rather than theatrical release – hence the division into ‘episodes’ that’s so puzzling on first encounter. But this in turn prompts a whole series of partly historical questions. Why consider it a ‘film’ at all, rather than those more arbitrary & flexible designations ‘mini-series’ or (note the sulphurous whiff of the culture industry) ‘box-set’? Why has it never seemingly been re-shown on TV? Is it not simply, avant la lettre, the leviathanic, half-shapeless, overstuffed flow of storytelling that David Thomson imagines The Sopranos to be? But then the very fact that it’s not seen on TV, on successive or weekly nights, surely impresses itself on the form: the ‘serial’ here survives within the movie as a whimsical relic, a fossil memory of cinema’s early exhibition history, of the Fantômas serials or Les Vampires, like human beings’ vestigial tail. (It’s a precedent that finds echoes in Out 1‘s obsession, at once Satanic & deeply quotidian, with sneaking, sleuthing & the social conspiracy of Mr Big figures.)
2. But the separate ‘episodes’, wh/ no longer have any chance to function as such except in the context of rather obtuse home-video viewing, show, in any case, barely anything. The first episode’s 50-minute dwelling on the Prometheus troupe’s exercise in infantile slobbering – the first glimpse we see of these characters, so that their urbane assessments at the end of the segment come as a jolt – is, even if you’re used to long takes in Renoir or Tarkovsky or whoever, an immersion that forces a real shock of adjustment: by the end you may not be watching the clock but you wonder how much longer it can really go on for; each passing minute is simply more of the same, filling the screen in close-up w/ its blunt facticity. The framings & camera moves feel, more often than not, “unchosen” (to use Thomson’s word), pushing away even the Bazinian allowance of unfiltered reality blooming under the camera’s look. Then, before you know it, the episode’s cut to black, after a last glimpse of Fredérique (Juliet Berto) stroking her weapon. But the very cumulative effect of all this stuff, of sameness divided into difference only by arbitrary decisions – putting the cut here rather than there for no apparent reason, turning 12 hours & 40 minutes into 8 ‘episodes’ – is to reach the state of tranced indistinction (the state that spectatorship is always invisibly tending towards) in wh/ unwilled & latent patterns seem to emerge – the disenchanted & laughable complement to the ‘organic form’ that so enchanted art after Romanticism: first as tragedy, now as farce.
3. As a document of Paris, a decade after Chronicle of a Summer, it’s at once fascinating & superficial. The light is always washed out, a little grey. The surface of traffic patterns, the built environment of the old quartiers, the surliness of old newspaper vendors & rundown tabacs are all neatly visible, & the order of apartment buildings & abandoned light-industrial spaces turned into rehearsal rooms shown, but there’s almost no sense of how these things work socially. That isn’t a criticism – we can say the same of Godard’s delight in formica, primary colours & rubber coats in Masculin/Féminin or Une Femme Est Une Femme – but it’s an intriguing exclusion: Paris as the sphinx w/out a secret. (The contrast here can be drawn w/ Celine et Julie three years later, in wh/ the remnants of Atget’s Paris become the site of cinema’s helpless fantasy of the interior.)
4. Almost no-one, w/ the exception of Berto & Pauline/Émilie (Bulle Ogier), looks like they’re meant to be in a movie. & then Berto never appears to be her own voluptuous self, but switches from a Jane Birkin waterfall of hair & heavy lashes to a stirring ’66 Dylan getup (including probably the loveliest green leather jacket in film history).
5. Rivette isn’t, as far as I recall, mentioned anywhere in the literature on David Lynch, but he surely must have seen the final ‘episode’ of Out 1: backwards dialogue, characters singing wanly to themselves, increasingly violent cuttings-in on the soundtrack, bursts of black leader, mirror phase as endless self-recession & discovery of the self-as-other, a tone, at once chilling & utterly banal, that set the entire key note of Twin Peaks & great swathes of Mulholland Dr.