Friday 28 July 2017

On Blu-ray - a journey through Jacques Rivette's OUT 1 - Introduction and episode one.

So, in 2017 the moment has arrived. Thanks to a friend gifting me the Arrow Films Blu-ray set of 70s films by Jacques Rivette I’m embarking on an exercise to finally catch up and perhaps to wallow in nostalgia. The prize of course is a viewing of Out 1 and its offspring Out 1: Spectre.

I watched Episode One and shortly thereafter by coincidence found myself reading an article in “The Monthly” by Alison Croggon about Melbourne’s La Mama and its fiftieth birthday. Some of the matters she touched on caused me to remember Sunday afternoons back in 1968 and 1969 when a very informal group, (no attendance roll, no fees, no selection or rejection) gathered at La Mama to do exercises somewhat in the fashion of those done in Part One. Croggon attributes the convening of the group to Graeme Blundell but in fact Alan Finney and the late Brian Davies were up front partners and leaders and Lindzee Smith, Jon Hawkes, Lindy Davies, Kerry Dwyer and others had a lot of influence as well.

But I digress….
Michele Moratti's group doing Sophocles
Jacques Rivette made Out 1 back in 1971. It assumed almost instant mythic status on the back of very few people actually seeing it. All told it is made up of eight episodes running for 773 minutes. It was intended to be screened as a television serial. There’s no point in me trying to write a brief history when Wikipedia  has already done so. Here are the relevant paras about the key moments of the film’s exhibition.

First shown as a work in progress at the Maison de la Culture in Le Havre, the film was re-edited down to a four-hour "short" version called Out 1: Spectre, which is more accessible and available (although not widely). Richard Roud, writing in The Guardian, called this version "a mind-blowing experience, but one which, instead of taking one 'out of this world' as the expression has it, took one right smack into the world. Or into a world which one only dimly realised was there – always right there beneath the everyday world ... the cinema will never be the same again, and nor will I." Few people have seen the full-length version, though it is championed by Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who compares it to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow,[2] and has included both Out 1: Noli Me Tangere and Out 1: Spectre in the 100 films singled out from his 1000 favourite films, published in his anthology Essential Cinema.

Michel Lonsdale's group doing Aeschylus
Out 1: Noli Me Tangere was restored in Germany in 1990 and was shown again at the Rotterdam and Berlin Film Festivals shortly thereafter. It disappeared again into obscurity until 2004, when both Noli Me Tangere and its shorter version Out 1: Spectre featured in the programme on June 1–21, in the complete retrospective Jacques Rivette Viaggio in Italia di un metteur en scène organized by Deep A.C. and curated by Goffredo De Pascale in Rome at the Sala Trevi Centro Sperimentale and in Naples at Le Grenoble. Then, only in the April/May 2006 Rivette retrospective at London's National Film Theatre, with the shorter film also screening twice across two subsequent nights at Anthology Film Archives in New York City on the same April weekend as the NFT projection of the long work. The North American premiere of Noli Me Tangere took place on September 23 and 24, 2006 in Vancouver's Vancouver International Film Centre organized by Vancouver International Film Festival programmer and Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson, attended by around twenty people (22 at Peranson's initial count, before episode 1, though others came and went). A subsequent screening took place as a part of the 2006 festival over September 30 and October 1, introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Jean-Pierre Leaud
Showing the film, whether or not at one of today’s festivals, is thus demonstrably somewhat fraught. Audiences are asked to attend eight separate feature length screenings. I attended a single episode of that VIFF screening (the episode featuring Jean-Pierre Leaud ‘discussing’ Balzac with Eric Rohmer). There were not 22 people in the theatre by the time this ep was reached. Rosenbaum’s intro was somewhat brief. Whether he went on doing intros for the subsequent eps I don’t know but whether he did or did not it must have been somewhat dispiriting that his beloved Rivette was being treated with such disdain by the people who otherwise buy 150,000 admission tickets for that esteemed event.

A Minor Connection
I have a minor business connection with Rivette. Back in the 70s Bruce Hodsdon, Karen Foley and I bought the rights to his Celine and Julie Go Boating  (France, 1974) and we had a minor success with it. We got our money back quite quickly on the back of a hugely successful season where Andrew Pike four-walled the Playhouse Theatre in Canberra and sold out session after session in a 312 seat venue. We found ourselves rather quickly sending overages back to the French sales agent Alain Vannier, something that impressed him to the extent that he wanted to see me when I was next in Paris. He tried to sell me Barbet Schroder’s Maîtresse  (France, 1975) and Bresson’s Le Diable Probablement (France, 1977). Perhaps I was my usual prissy self but I baulked at buying a film in which Gerard Depardieu has his penis hammered to a board even though you dont see the nails going in, and whoever tried to sell Bresson to the Australian public after Diary of a Country Priest.

Juliet Berto
.and so to Premier Episode/Episode One, de Lili à Thomas, 13 April, 1970
Out 1 opens in the midst of a small theatre group rehearsing or perhaps preparing a production of Aeschylus "Seven Against Thebes". Warm-up exercises take place and then the small group of five start working round one of the scenes. This is going to be wildly improvised, the play a mere jumping off point for invention of a new ‘text’. In the midst of these scenes we are introduced, very briefly, to Jean-Pierre Lead as an apparent deaf mute wandering round among café patrons and passing them an envelope, the contents of which apparently contain a message. He wants a franc for the envelope. Then the scene shifts to a second theatre group doing a similar preparation for another production of Aeschylus "Prometheus". This group is led by a chain-smoking Michel Lonsdale and as the rehearsals unfold seems more focused and mature in its improvisations. Towards the end we are introduced to Juliet Berto in a café. She’s into picking up guys for the purpose of stealing from them and having taken some money from another patron on the pretext of buying cigarettes she flees back to her room, a bare garret, and at the very end pulls a large handgun out of her handbag. End.

From the credits we learn that Michele Moretti is Lili, Lonsdale is Thomas, Leaud is ‘Un jeune sourd-muet’ and Berto is ‘Une jeune voleuse’.

Holding the attention as the improvisations proceed isn’t easy. They both involve shouting and groping and are filmed closely enough in long takes to get all the faces but not a lot of meaning. “There’s an image!” Alan Finney used to say as things occasionally degenerated back in those long gone La Mama Sundays. 

The episode takes 1’29” to get to its end points. The title Noli Me Tangere doesn't appear.

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