History of the Thirteen Plus One
1. More successfully than the now countless others that have tried, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 is a film that eludes succinct description. Every level of the film’s text, and every moment in the history of the film, has been animated by an adamant preference for circulation over transmission, flow over fixity. In order to make use of the film’s enormous power, we should reject every instantiation of this preference with an equal insistence.
2. Over the course of its nearly thirteen-hour runtime, only one thing remains stable in Out 1: a structuring antinomy of freedom versus constraint. In the film’s production, these poles were conceived as improvisation/scripting, or collaboration/control. In the film’s narrative, such as it is, they take on a variety of guises: chance/conspiracy, free will/fate, chaos/order, agency/structure, modern/classical, rehearsal/event, process/product. Since the film has so far been seen almost exclusively within the narrow confines of cinephilia, critics have tended to seize upon its film-generic embodiment: documentary/narrative, or, tiresomely, Renoir/Lang. Although as critic B. Kite has demonstrated in the most thorough and convincing analysis of the film to date, it is probably most productively conceived as play versus fiction.
3. Since Out 1 makes no attempt to resolve—let alone synthesize—these antinomies, they only proliferate, erecting hurdle after hurdle to any effort we viewers could make to mobilize the film beyond its thinly refined particularity. By the film’s arbitrarily imposed conclusion, they are everywhere and thus, now indistinguishable, nowhere. The film achieves a profound and maddening ambivalence.
4. The essential context for the film’s conception, production, and reception is, of course, May 1968 and its aftermath. One rarely hears Out 1 mentioned without at least passing reference to this conjuncture. The world depicted it in the film is quite directly a product of these years, and and its formal-thematic fixations, whatever their provenance, would have none of the same force without their proximity to concrete dilemmas of French society during this period.
5. Within the small body of existing literature on Out 1, the film’s politics are always at least implicitly acknowledged, and sometimes explicitly touted, but they are never been made a central question. There are some fairly obvious practical and ideological reasons for this absence, but I don’t think they are the crucial ones.
6. Only now that it can circulate as something like a fixed object does Out 1 exist for more than the most marginal sliver of English-speaking audiences.
7. Deleuze and Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus during the years that Rivette was at work on Out 1. “There’s a true kinship,” B. Kite has written, “between Rivette and Deleuze, each continually asking himself, what if it were otherwise?” This connection has been made by other critics too, and while Deleuze made an effort to cultivate it, Rivette was always most likely to refer to Barthes.
8. No single film comes closer than Out 1 to conceptualizing the transition from the 1960s to the 1970s in the capitalist West in its totality. In its total indifference to questions of production and power at any kind of adequate scale, however, it suffers from the very condition it might have diagnosed.
9. Fredric Jameson: “The failure of May 1968 [ … ] predictably drove so many [students and intellectuals] across the still-political positions of leftism or anarchism into what in this country we would call a depoliticized counterculture, of which Anti-Oedipus is one of the basic texts [ … ] Deleuze and Guattari’s position, indeed, may be seen as the most extreme working out of that Cartesian maxim from which all bourgeois subjectivism may be said to spring: ‘always seek to conquer myself rather than fortune, to change my desires rather than the established order, and generally to believe that nothing except our thoughts is wholly under our control.’”
10. There is at least one more suspended antinomy produced by Out 1, one finally irreducible to the film’s central polarity: that of the individual and the collectivity. Like many of the others, it was built into the production process as a kind of motoring tension, and then flagged as a central preoccupation of the text. More than that, however, it reaches out of the screen and becomes intimately interwoven with the experience of watching the film. An absurdly long film to be designed for the movie theater, Out 1 summons a large group of people together only—through both the process and product of its narration—to smash it into incommensurable fragments.
11. Even if the full version of Out 1 had been available to American audiences in the early 1970s, it seems unlikely it would have played a significant role in film culture or social life more broadly. What Jameson calls a “depoliticized counterculture” had much earlier, and much more firmly, established itself here. It produced symptoms similar but ultimately distinct from those that Out 1 so meticulously represents.
12. It should be striking that a film so sensitive to the politics of its moment and so sophisticated about the politics of its form is entirely bereft of more than passing reference to the most basic human necessities, and the structures that have been erected to account for them. With only a few partial exceptions, the film’s vast social world is one without work, family, or food. There is neither a state, a system of exchange, nor any effort to acknowledge their absence. The collectivities that are meant to stand in contrast to the individuals are in the end revealed to be ultimately elective and easily dissoluble.
13. Through the elegant insanity of its construction, Out 1 fully embodies—demands its viewer experience—the very thing its subtext depicts: the reduction of politics to culture by a privileged group of bohemians, and the trap set by this reduction, for any effort toward genuinely collective action.
14. Watching Out 1 is, among other things, fun and illuminating. But it can only be recommended if approached with the obstinacy of an exorcist.
Out 1 played at BAMcinématek in November. It will be released on DVD by Carlotta Films in January.
COLIN BECKETT has contributed film reviews to the Brooklyn Rail since 2011. He lives in Los Angeles.