It is hard to reasonably argue why one would want to make or watch a 13-hour movie and what value there is in distributing, exhibiting, and, most importantly, celebrating the visual and mental workout of watching and allegedly digesting a 13 hour movie. Is the 13-hour movie the utmost championing of the cinematic art or its most disgustingly elitist moment? For who is the 13 hour movie for? Realistically, who cares and why should they?
If you’re nice, the 13-hour movie is an act of dedication, of commitment, and of passion. If you are attentive, disciplined, and willing to have faith in it, there will be (there must be) rewards at its conclusion. If you’re a skeptic, the 13-hour movie is an act of self-indulgence, arrogance, opulence and, worst of all, it’s boring as hell. To call it a movie is a vast over-statement; at best, the 13-hour movie is a gaudy experiment or a gallery piece – leave it for the critics.
After sitting through the whole thing, it feels silly to describe it in terms of liking it or disliking it. Its scope alone invites all-encompassing hyperboles, some specific descriptor that concerns its irrational commitment to itself. Fundamentally, it boils down to a question of commitment, and the 13-hour movie is a pre-meditated commitment very particular and unusual in the landscape of media consumption in 2015. Do not be mistaken: this is not the un-planned binge watching of television that feels similar to a particularly riveting and giddy, if a little bit un-wise, first date. The 13-hour movie is something like a Las Vegas wedding: its impulsive and far-reaching intentions are validated by traditional, age-old institutional bonds – but are they true? Is it worthwhile? Does it move you in the morning? The day after?
The movie in question is Jacques Rivette’s 1971’s Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, which is being drawn out of its obscurity by Carlotta Films, that has restored the film in beautiful 2K and is releasing it on Blu-Ray and DVD next year and in brave art-house theaters across the world this holiday season. Deemed by critics as a “cinephile’s holy grail” because of its messianic critical acclaim, exceedingly rare public appearances, and, obviously, by its ridiculous dick-swinging length, the film, in its full, un-cut version, was screened once in France the year of its completion, once again in Rotterdam nearly twenty years later, and here and there in New York and London in the mid 2000s. I have heard stories about a VHS bootleg of the film with unreliable subtitles floating around the Internet for the past several years, but it is hard (and kind of painful and strangely lonely) to imagine someone sitting through the whole thing that way.
If Out 1 is about any given thing in particular, it is about two theater troops putting on, respectively, two different Aeschylus plays, Seven Against Thebesand Prometheus Unbound. It is also about a petty thief (the way-too-lovely Juliét Berto) that cons men and steals their money. It is also about a deaf-mute harmonica-playing busker (Jean Pierre Leaud, also lovely, if you’re into paranoid boys), that halfway through the film starts speaking. Their paths cross in ways that vary from evocative and tender to brash and confusing. There’s some mention of Balzac and Lewis Carroll. There is a secret society involved. The whole thing feels like a Pynchon novel filtered through the lens of French New Wave: lots of cigarette smoking, weird continuity, droves of beautiful women, deliciously muted sexual tension, and many moments of tender and unbridled passion.
Rivette has likened the film to a very long novel and the statement doesn’t sound too crazy – it is very long and it feels very long. Still, it is way too kinetic, way too loud and raw, to forcefully compare it to the brainy, monumental intimacy of hefty literature. Likening it to TV also feels derivative and untrue, although Out 1 at some point almost became a serialized TV-show and was produced with that intention. French broadcasters ultimately wound up rejecting the final project: in the film’s first hour there is a 45-minute sequence where we see one of the theater troops go from making baby-sounds, to wailing, to droning, to screaming and thumping, to finally intellectually breaking down what they were doing. The film takes way too many tangents, its connective tissue is either too subtle or spastic, to make sense as something you’d follow over a one to two month period, even if you were living in Paris at the height of the French new wave and willing to indulge your television shows.
We are left calling Out 1 what it wants to be called, a movie, and strangely enough it does stand upright as such: There are love stories, gunshots, beatings. It is set in a beautifully romantic and cinematic Paris. People go crazy – over valuables, over personal gain, over each other. Things disappear and are found. Things happen, and people, veritably and excitedly, react to them. There is a strange, churning engine behind the story, and its run-time complements its plotline. Sitting on a chair in silence for 13 hours is, on its own, a contemplative, hypnotic, dream-like, paranoid, time-consuming, and exhausting experience – it is fitting the movie has those qualities as well.
Still, the conversation eventually circles back to its length, and what to make of it. Whether Rivette was conscious of it or not, Out 1 presents itself as a rare opportunity to engage with art as a marathon-like activity; the way one gets through it is almost as, if not more, important than what it is about it. Its first hours are strange and unusual (“What is this thing? Why the hell am I here?”), but eventually there is an understanding of the flow and character of the piece that triggers some sort of surrender, or flow-state, particular to the film’s attributes and desires. Were I to have watched Out 1 by myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if the thing eventually started feeling like some Aztec vision quest. Because I saw it in a dark, surprisingly packed theater in Los Angeles, it felt like some sort of cult formation.
Rivette said the movie is best ingested over a weekend, and Cinefamily, the last stronghold of weird cinematic curiosities in Los Angeles, abided to the man’s desires and screened the whole thing over two days earlier this November. Screenings started at noon, and would end around 8 or 9, taking into consideration breaks for discussion and refreshments. There was coffee in the morning and wine in the afternoon. There was a pot-luck in the middle of the first day and, as it turns out, cinephiles can be pretty able cooks or at least, creative in their snack choices.
A large part of the audience came by themselves and it was mostly, sadly, dudes. Young, paunchy and bearded dudes with bad postures, dudes with really nice looking glasses, old dudes in tweed coats that looked like east coast film professors, wild-eyed dudes that dressed in bright colors.
I recognized Michael Silverblatt, of NPR’s Bookworm, by overhearing his unmistakable scholarly drawl in conversation. I asked him of the film’s literary references and had the surreal experience of a legendary literary broadcaster tell me that there is nothing in particular that I should know: “the movie explains itself”.
I eventually approached one of the few women in the event, “Yeah, none of my friends wanted to come with me, but I never…I never had a second thought about it. I mean, it’s Rivette. It’s Out 1. How the hell else would I have spent my weekend?” I asked her how, and she said “Well, actually, I’d probably be painting.” A guy next to her butted in, “I’d probably be getting drunk, over-sleeping, and watching other movies.”
There were, of course, vocal detractors. “If I saw another minute of that pseudo-intellectual, living-theater bullshit, man…I mean, shit man, whatever sort of existential, problem they are trying to solve here could easily be condensed in 90 minutes or less, in a much more entertaining environment. You ever see Total Recall? Look, that movie concerns itself with as many of the same problems as this piece of shit did, and stuff blows up in it. What’s wrong with that?” He told me to watch his web-series, which I did, and found nothing remarkable about, except for how colorful everything was. The painter and him eventually left together.
An older, very well-dressed guy had seen the whole thing three times beforehand – one of them was the famed VHS bootleg. “I had plans to watch it [the second time on VHS] with this woman, but she dumped me a week before.” He said, smiling, eagerly waiting to deliver the punch line: “Watching it on my own the next weekend was special. She wasn’t ready for Out 1. It just wasn’t meant to be.” I did a double take on the breast pocket of his shirt, and you could make out, very neatly and discretely, the letters OUT 1 hand-sewn onto the upper-right.
This week, I was surprised to see the movie is also now available to be streamed on Fandor, greatly reducing a lot of the film’s natural intimation for cult formation, and also kind of breaking my heart. Still, regardless if you’re a fan of the general demystification of things, or if you would rather revel in their secrecy, you can now watch Out 1 in the comfort of your home. Chances are you will probably still be part of a fairly select, obsessed, bored and/or curious group of people.