Written for the Carlotta box set release of Out 1, and reprinted here with their permission. — J.R.
Out 1 and Its Double
[Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz] causes earache the first time through, especially for those new to Coleman’s music. The second time, its cacophony lessens and its complex balances and counter-balances begin to take effect. The third time, layer upon layer of pleasing configurations — rhythmic, melodic, contrapuntal, tonal — becomes visible. The fourth or fifth listening, one swims readily along, about ten feet down, breathing the music like air.
– Whitney Balliett, “Abstract,” in Dinosaurs in the Morning
If there is something comforting — religious, if you want — about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
– Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
In the spring of 1970, Jacques Rivette shot about thirty hours of improvisation with over three dozen actors in 16mm. Out of this massive and extremely open-ended material emerged two films, both of which contrive to subvert the traditional moviegoing experience at its roots. Out 1, lasting twelve hours and forty minutes, structured as an eight-part serial, originally subtitled Noli me tangere, that was designed for but refused by French television, was screened publicly only once (at Le Havre, 9-10 September 1971), still in workprint form. Seventeen and a half years later, at the Rotterdam Film Festival in February 1989, a somewhat re-edited but nearly finished print was screened over several days for a much smaller audience, including myself, and then in the early 90s, a version that had apparently been re-edited somewhat further by Rivette (including the deletion of a lengthy sequence featuring Jean-Pierre Léaud in the final episode), was shown at a few film festivals and on French and German television, and this version, to the best of my knowledge, is the one being presented here.
As I recall, no more than about five viewers in Rotterdam cared to watch the serial in its entirety in 1989, and very few others turned up even to sample it. But such are the conundrums of shifting fashion that when the Museum of the Moving Image in New York’s Queens screened the serial over a weekend in late 2006, tickets were sold out well in advance, and the entire event was rescheduled the following March to accommodate the others who wanted to see it. (In this case, an appreciative article in the Sunday New York Times by Dennis Lim clearly helped.)
Out 1: Spectre, which Rivette spent the better part of a year editing out of the first film — running 255 minutes, or roughly a third as long, and structured to include an intermission halfway through (as was Rivette’s previous feature, the 252-minute L’amour fou in 1968) — was released in Paris in early 1974, and to the best of my knowledge, is the same version that is included in this release.
The organizing principle adopted by Rivette in shooting the raw material of both films was the notion of a complot (plot, conspiracy) derived from Balzac’s Histoire des treize, where thirteen individuals occupying different sectors of French society form a secret alliance to consolidate their power. Consciously setting out to make a critique of the conspiratorial zeitgeist of his first feature, Paris Nous Appartient, Rivette also used this principle to arrange meetings and confrontations between his actors, each of whom was invited to invent and improvise his or her own character in relation to the overall intrigue. The only writing done as preparation came from Rivette’s codirector Suzanne Schiffmann, who helped to prepare and plot the separate encounters, and from Rivette himself when he wrote three separate coded messages intercepted by one of the characters that allude to the complot and the “13”.
Paradoxically, if one can get past the relative tedium of the theatrical exercises, Out 1 might be the most accessible and entertaining of all of Rivette’s works, with the possible exception of Céline at Julie vont en bateau — quite unlike Spectre, which probably qualifies as his most difficult film. (Arguably, these three films feature Rivette’s most inventive and pleasurable uses of color.) But because of its initial rejection by French state television and its subsequent lack of availability, its reputation has assumed legendary proportions, inflating notions of its alleged difficulty due to the length of its combined episodes (which few viewers would ever think of applying to other TV serials and miniseries, especially those in English). Soon after a pirated version of the serial as it was shown on Italian TV turned up on the Internet, furnished with English subtitles provided by amateur fans, English critic Brad Stevens was moved to write the following in Video Watchdog: “It is surely evidence of how widely cinema is still considered a second-rate art that one of its supreme masterpieces has been denied to British and American audiences; if a similar situation existed where literature was concerned, we would only be able to read English translations of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu in the form of clandestinely circulated photocopies. Yet one can hardly resist a wry smile upon discovering that Out 1, a work obsessively focused on conspiracies, has finally achieved widespread distribution thanks to what might described as an Internet ‘conspiracy’.”
It should be noted that repeated viewings of Out 1 and Spectre help to clarify not their ”plots” but their separate formal organizations. The analogy suggested above between Rivette and Coleman is far more relevant, however, to the notion of performance. Much like Coleman’s thirty-eight-minute venture into group improvisation with seven other musicians, Out 1‘s surface is dictated by accommodations, combinations, and clashes brought about by contrasting styles of “playing.” The textures run the gamut from the purely cinematic skills of Jean-Pierre Léaud (Colin) and Juliet Berto (Frédérique) to the stage-bound techniques of Françoise Fabian (Lucie); from the relative nervousness of Michel Lonsdale (Thomas) and Michele Moretti (Lili) to the relative placidity of Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (Etienne) and Jean Boise (Warok); from the reticence of Bulle Ogier (Pauline/Emilie) to the garrulity of Bernadette Lafont (Sarah). Most radical of all is the supposition that “everything” an actor does is interesting, effectively abolishing the premise one can discriminate in a conventional manner between “good” and “bad” performances, which is always predicated on some fixed notion of the real.
For Coleman as for Rivette, the thematic material is kept to a minimum and mainly used as an expedient — a launching pad to propel each solo player into a “statement” of his own that elicits responses from the others. Apart from the brief ensemble passages written by Coleman, there is no composer behind Free Jazz, hence no composition; the primary role of Coleman as leader is to assemble players and establish a point of departure for their improvising.
Rivette’s role in both versions of Out 1 is similar, with the crucial difference that he edited and rearranged the material afterward, assembling shots as well as players. And the assembly is one that works against the notion of continuity: sustained meaning, the province of an auteur, is deliberately withheld — from the audience as well as the actors. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the “13″ in both versions of Out 1 never reveals itself as anything more than a chimera. It eventually becomes evident that the complot is a pipe dream that never got off the ground, an idea once discussed among thirteen individuals that apparently went no further. Aside from the efforts of certain characters (mainly Thomas and Lucie) to keep its real or hypothetical existence hidden, and the attempts or threats of others (Colin, Frédérique, Pauline/Emilie) to “expose” it, the “13″ never once assumes a recognizable shape — in the dialogue or on the screen.
Both films begin by pretending to tell us four separate stories at once—although the beginning of the first and longer version could perhaps also be described, with greater accuracy, as presenting us with four separate and alternating blocks of documentary material with no narrative connection between them. We watch two theatre groups rehearsing plays attributed to Aeschylus—Seven Against Thebes (directed by Lili) and Prometheus Bound (directed by Thomas), and also observe Colin and Frédérique — two rather crazed and curious loners, each of whom contrives to extract money from strangers in cafés. (Colin hands out cards declaring that he’s a deaf-mute, and plays aggressively and atonally on his harmonica whenever someone hesitates to give him money; Frédérique, when she isn’t hanging out with her gay friend Michel [played by her real-life gay husband at the time, Michel Berto], usually starts by flirting and/or inventing stories about her identity and background.) For the first three dozen or so shots of Spectre — ten of them black-and-white stills accompanied by an electronic hum – Rivette cuts between these four autonomous units, establishing no plot connections. The only links set up are occasional formal repetitions: a scene echoed by a subsequent still, two pans in separate shots of Colin and Frédérique in their rooms. Even within each unit, many shots are either “too long” or “too short” to be conventionally taken as narrative. Rivette often cuts in the middle of a sentence or a movement, and the missing pieces are not always recuperated. Conversely, a shot in which Colin’s concierge reminds him to leave his key ends irrelevantly with her walking away from the camera and sitting down at a table to write. Like some of the cryptic stills punctuating later portions of the film, such a diversion proposes — without ever substantiating — yet another supplementary fiction.
Then almost miraculously, 13 minutes and 35 seconds into Spectre—and 35 minutes and 28 seconds into the second episode of the serial (or more than two hours into the overall proceedings) — two of the four “plots” are brought together: Colin is suddenly handed a slip of paper by Marie (Hermine Karagheuz), a member of Lili’s theatre group. On it is typed a seemingly coded message which he sets out to decipher, along with two subsequent messages he receives, following clues provided by references to Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” and Balzac (the latter gracefully explicated by Eric Rohmer in a cameo role). And when Colin’s deductions eventually lead him to a hippy boutique called “l’Angle du hasard,” the “plot” appreciably thickens: the boutique is run by Pauline, whom we later discover is a friend of both Thomas and Lili, another member of the collective; and all three are members of the alleged “13.”
Meanwhile, Frédérique, the fourth narrative strand, has been making some unwitting connections of her own. After stealing letters from the flat of Etienne (another one of the “13,” along with his wife, Lucie) for the purpose of possible blackmail, she dons a wig and arranges a meeting with Lucie: an incongruous match suggesting Mickey Rooney in an encounter with Rohmer’s Maud. Then, when she fails to collect money, she turns up at the boutique to try the same ploy with Pauline.
This second encounter marks the fusion of all four “plots,” and occurs just before the intermission of Spectre, although it doesn’t occur in the serial until much later, during the fifth episode. It is the only time Frédérique and Colin ever cross paths (they are the only important characters who never meet), and the spectator may well feel at this point that she or he is finally being led out of chaos. But the remainder of the story in both versions, after drawing the four strands together more tightly, proceeds to unravel them again; and the final hour of Spectre and the remaining episodes of the serial leave us as much in the dark as we were at the beginning.
By this time, many of the characters have wound up revealing various secrets – Colin, for instance, starts talking a blue streak in one of the intermediate episodes, losing his deaf-mute pose for several hours — and the conspiracies paradoxically seem to grow thicker at the same time that both groups start to dissolve. Even though certain scenes toward the end defy explanation or decoding — in a dialogue between Colin and Sarah at the end of the seventh episode, some of her lines and one of his are literally played backward on the soundtrack, and Frédérique in the eighth episode is killed in an obscure intrigue with her recently acquired lover on a rooftop involving dueling pistols and a black mask (in effect, another romantic 19th century fantasy that seems to rhyme with Colin’s obsession with Balzac) — the overall design and meaning of Out 1 become increasingly lucid as the serial unfolds. By the end, the paranoid fiction that the actors have generated has almost completely subsumed the documentary, even though the implied conspiracy continues to elude their grasp as well as ours. The successive building and shattering of utopian dreams — the idealistic legacy of May 1968 — are thus reproduced in the rising and declining fortunes of all the characters, outlining both the preoccupations and the shape of the work as a whole.
Much as folie à deux figures centrally in L’Amour Fou and Céline et Julie vont en Bateau, failed folie à deux gradually becomes the very essence of both Out and Spectre. The inability to “connect” reveals itself as part and parcel of the incapacity to sustain fictions, a failure registering most poignantly in the relationship of Ogier and Léaud, which begins with mutual attraction and ends in estrangement. Of all the ”two-part inventions”, theirs is the richest in shifting tensions, and the growing rift is brilliantly underlined by the staging of their scenes in the boutique — particularly when they’re stationed in adjoining rooms on opposite sides of the screen, each vying in a different way for our attention. This spatial tension reaches its climax in their last scene together, on the street, when Ogier forcibly breaks away and Léaud mimes the invisible barrier between them by pushing at it in agonized desperation, finally wandering in a diagonal trajectory out of the frame while blowing a dissonant wail on his harmonica.
The ideal form of viewing the film would be for it to be distributed like a book on records, as, for example, with a fat novel of a thousand pages. Even if one’s a very rapid reader — which, as it happens, isn’t my case — one never reads the book in one sitting, one puts it down, stops for lunch, etc. The ideal thing was to see it in two days, which allowed one to get into it enough to follow it, with the possibility of stopping four or five times.
– Rivette describing the serial to Gilbert Adair, “Phantom Interviewers Over Rivette,” Film Comment, September-October 1974
At least part of the impressionism you see in Duras and Straub (who, by the way, was totally hypnotized by a screening of the thirteen-hour Out) comes from their low-budget techniques. I aim at something a little different in my recent films; you might almost say that I am trying to bring back the old MGM Technicolor! I even think that the colors of Out would please a Natalie Kalmus [Hollywood color consultant 1934-49]….
– Rivette to John Hughes, “The Director as Psychoanalyst” (Spring 1975), http://www.rouge.com.au/4/hughes.html
Complot becomes the motivation behind a series of transparent gestures: specters of action playing over a void. We watch actors playing at identity and meaning the way that children do, with many of the games leading to dead ends or stalemates, some exhausting themselves before they arrive anywhere, and still others creating solid roles and actions that dance briefly in the theater of the mind before dissolving into something else. Nothing remains fixed, and everything becomes ominous. Relentlessly investigated by Colin and blindly exploited by Frédérique, the specter of the “13″ reactivates the paranoia of its would-be members, mainly increasing the distances between them. Other crises intervene (a stranger runs off with the money of an actor in Lili’s theater group; Pauline threatens to publish the intercepted letters); fear begets fear; both theater groups disperse; Emilie and Lili are last seen driving off to meet the perpetually missing Igor; and Frédérique and Colin are each returned to their isolation. Repeated “empty” shots of Porte d’Italie in the final reel of Spectre — chilling mixtures of Ozu-like emptiness with Langian terror — embody this growing sense of void, which ultimately widens to swallow up everything else in the film.
The delivery of the first message to Colin is totally gratuitous, an act that is never explained or even hinted at, and most of the other “connections” are brought about by equally expedient contrivances. In a country house occupied at various times by Sarah, Thomas, Emilie (aka Pauline), and Lili, Rivette parodies the very notion of “hidden meaning” in a subtler way, by making sure that a single nondescript bust with no acknowledged relation to the “plot” is visible in every room. It even crops up in the locked room possibly inhabited by Igor, Emilie’s missing husband, a room she enters only near the end of the film. Obviously the bust is a joke; but why is it there? To suggest a complot. And according to the tactics of Out 1, suggesting a complot is at once an absurdity and a necessity: it leads us nowhere except forward – a compulsive movement that often leads to comedy in the serial but mainly produces a feeling of anguish in Spectre.
For much of the preceding, I’ve been treating the plots of Out 1 and its shortened and fractured “double” as if they were identical, but in fact the experiences and meanings of the serial and of Spectre are in many ways radically different, as they were meant to be. The opening shot of Spectre, for instance, occurs almost three hours into the serial, and the final episode of the serial largely consists of material missing from Spectre. One of the more striking differences in the long version is that Thomas (Lonsdale) emerges as virtually the central character (which he clearly isn’t in Spectre) — not only because of his role in guiding his group’s improvisations and psychic self-explorations, but also because his ambiguous role as a rather infantile patriarch, climaxing in his falling apart in his last extended sequence on the beach, becomes pivotal to the overall movement of the plot.
Beginning as a documentary that is progressively overtaken by fiction, the serial has no prologue, merely a rudimentary itinerary set down in five successive intertitles — “Stéphane Tchalgadjieff présente / OUT 1 / Premier Episode / de Lili à Thomas / Le 13 avril 1970″ — followed by an opening shot of five actors in a bare rehearsal space performing elaborate calisthenics together to the sound of percussion. Minus the date, the same pattern of intertitles launches every other episode, each of which is labeled as a further relay between two characters, beginning in each case with the second character named in the previous segment. (In the sixth chapter, the relay is between two guises of the same character, Pauline/Emilie.)
All seven of the remaining episodes have prologues, each of which is structured similarly: 15 to 28 black and white production stills shot by Pierre Zucca that recap portions of the preceding episode, accompanied by the same percussion heard in the first shot of the first episode, followed by the one or two concluding shots of the preceding episode in black and white that carry their original direct sound. Thus the notion of precise links in a chain — between one episode and the next, between one character and the next – is maintained throughout as a strictly practical principle as well as a formal one. Each black and white prologue provides both a ghostly abstraction of the preceding segment as an aide de mémoire and a version of “the thirteen” (roughly, 2 x 13 = 26) as a compulsive rearrangement of existing data that might provide certain clues about what is to come. Similarly, each relay-title posits a beginning and an end to the trajectory of characters within each episode while establishing that each new beginning was formerly an end and each new end will form a new beginning — another form of abstraction-as-synopsis that retraces the action as if it were a kind of puzzle that might yield hidden meanings. (In Spectre, these titles vanish, but the black and white stills are reformulated at various junctures to provide cryptic extensions to as well as recollective summaries of the action, accompanied by a droning hum rather than percussion. As Rivette described this sound and function in a 1974 interview, “What we have is just a meaningless frequency, as if produced by a machine, which interrupts the fiction — sometimes sending messages to it, sometimes in relation to what we’ve already seen or are going to see, and sometimes with no relation at all. Because there are stills from scenes, especially toward the end [of Spectre], which don’t appear in the body of the film and are frankly quite incomprehensible.”)
In contrast to the serial, Spectre might be said to begin as a fictional narrative that is progressively overtaken by documentary — the precise opposite of its predecessor. Despite the fact that both theater groups are putatively preparing to perform plays ascribed to Aeschylus, there are no deaths at all in the serial apart from that of Frédérique, and apparently none whatsoever in Spectre. (One can’t be entirely sure about the messenger played by the film’s producer, Stéphane Tchalgadjieff — brained by Pauline with a blunt instrument bottle in the back of the hippie boutique where she works, for no apparent reason, and never seen again.) Moreover, the meaning and impact of many individual shots and sequences are markedly different. Colin’s efforts to get an Eiffel Tower trinket to swing back and forth 13 times -— a minor gag in the serial that parodies his manic efforts to impose meaning where there is none, to convert chance into destiny —- becomes the final shot of Spectre. There it figures as an ironic metaphor for the viewer’s frustration in trying to make sense out of the latter film. After repeated efforts, Colin finally concludes, “It didn’t work,” speaking now for Rivette as well as the spectator: the physical act becomes metaphysical.
ROSENBAUM: Why did you choose the title Out?
RIVETTE: Because we didn’t succeed in finding a title. It’s without meaning. It’s only a label.
– “Phantom Interviewers Over Rivette,” Film Comment, September-October 1974
Seen as a single work, or at least as two versions of the same work, Out 1 strikes me as the greatest film we have about the counterculture of the 1960s. I hasten to add that unlike all the American or English examples one could cite, there is nothing in Out 1 about hallucinogenic drugs (despite some riotously bright, psychedelic colors), and as a period statement that is related directly to the disillusionment that followed the failed revolution of May 1968, it projects a specifically French zeitgeist. (One could perhaps speculate that the Cartesian basis of French thought provided French culture with a sort of shortcut to the mindset provided by hallucinogenic drugs in North America, thereby delaying and otherwise limiting their cultural impact.)
But seen more broadly as an epic reflection on the utopian dreams of the counterculture as they manifested themselves on both sides of the Atlantic, Out 1 remains an invaluable touchstone, above all in its perceptions of the options posed between collectivity and isolation, the major theme of Rivette’s early features. Virtually all of Out 1 can be read as a meditation on the dialectic between various collective endeavors (theater rehearsals, conspiracies, diverse counter-cultural activities, manifestos) and activities and situations growing out of solitude and alienation (puzzle solving, scheming, plot spinning, ultimately madness) — the options, to some extent, of the French left during the late 1960s.
Formally, the serial could be called Bazinian and Renoiresque in its preference for the long take and for mise en scène in deep focus over montage as a purveyor of meaning, and in this respect, the aggressively edited, splintered, and Langian Spectre forms a striking dialectic with it. In the serial, this ultimately leads to a kind of parodic summation of Bazin’s notions about realism — a Rouch-like pseudo-documentary mired in fantasy — that might be said to undermine Bazinian theories more than simply illustrate them.
A major difference between the Rivette’s serial and the crime serials of Feuillade — accounting for their vast difference in popular appeal, at least to the audiences of their respective periods — rests in the notion of a stable base beneath or behind all the machinations. In Les Vampires (1915-1916) and Tih-Minh (1919), a supreme confidence in the fixed generic identities of heroes and villains and in the fixed social identities of masters and servants makes all the “revisions” of these characters and the improvised spirit of their enactments a form of play that never threatens their root functions and identities as narrative figures. In Out 1, the absence of this social and artistic confidence — a veritable agnosticism about society and fiction alike that seems to spring from both the skepticism of the late 1960s and the burden placed on all the actors to improvise — gives the narrative a very different status, entailing a frequent slippage from character to actor and from fiction to nonfiction. Because none of the masks seems entirely secure, the fiction-making process itself — its pleasures, its dangers, even its traps, dead ends, and lapses — becomes part of the overall subject and interest. (The issue at stake isn’t so much the skill of Rivette’s actors — which varies enormously — as the perfunctory nature of many of the fictions that they embody.) Here there is no fixed text beneath the various proliferating fictions that might guarantee their social and generic functions; what one finds instead is a series of references and allusions — Balzac and Renoir, Aeschylus and Lang, Dumas and Rouch, Hugo and Feuillade — that can provide only theoretical pretexts or momentary, unsustainable models, as well as an overall spirit of drift and play.
IV: Three Afterthoughts
He who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch.
– Jean Luc Godard, reviewing Montparnasse 19 (1958)
1. Perhaps the most detailed comparison between the two separate theater groups in Out 1 has been offered by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin in two separate videos and an accompanying text commissioned by the Melbourne International Film Festival in late 2014 as part of an ongoing series of audiovisual essays and written texts about Out 1. (Kevin B. Lee and I provided the second video in this series, Álvarez López/Martin made the first and fourth, David Heslin and Chris Luscri provided the third, and Luscri alone, working with an audio interview with Tchalgadjieff, produced the fourth.) The following two passages are drawn from an essay posted in mubi.com/notebook on 7 August 2014 to accompany the first of these videos, “Paratheatre: Plays Without Stages (from Ito IV)”:
“The fact is that Out 1 is an extraordinary, synthesizing document of many experimental movements in theater, dating from the immediate post-war period and surviving through to our day, in performance workshops grand and small across the globe. Although some of the commentaries indicate, in passing, that Rivette drew upon (through his actors) a mélange of influences including the Polish theatre guru Jerzy Grotowski and The Living Theatre from USA, it is dizzying to realize just how many traditions and tendencies are referenced in the physical work of the performers that Rivette records with such care, and at such length. The film is like an immense corridor through which the history of contemporary, experimental theatre passes.”
“One group uses gestural and vocal work to explore and express, in highly stylized ways, Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes; the other uses a radical form of improvisation, nominally based on the pretext of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, that is not quite psychodrama (its aim is not in the least bit therapeutic), but certainly reaches down to the roots of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty — in the latter case, the written text slips further and further away. Both groups base their work on the types of rigorous exercises (Grotowski’s exercises, psychophysical exercises, and ancient games such as mirroring) that are crucial, for instance, to Richard Schechner’s The Performance Group (which later became The Wooster Group), whose production of Dionysus in ’69 was documented (in split-screen) by Brian De Palma in 1970.
“Both troupes talk, analyze and review their work a lot — but whereas the Thebes group tend to re-work things practically (according to various kinds of ‘scores’ for voice and movement), the Prometheus group is more into research and self-critique, once they emerge from each ‘trance.’ Note, too, the dual orientation of both groups: while, in one way or another, they are fully avant-garde, they are also trying to plug back into mythic, sacred sources — the revival of theatrical spectacle as ritual which both attracted and disturbed Pasolini by the end of the 1960s.”
Based on my own limited theatergoing experience in this period, I would add to this account that some of the “trances” in the Prometheus group closely resemble certain interludes in The Living Theatre’s production of Paradise Now (which I attended at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music in the fall of 1968, after the same group and production toured Europe).
2. The eventual knitting together of four seemingly autonomous and unrelated narrative strands — more cursory in Spectre, but central to the serial — might be seen as the belated fulfillment of an innovative aspect of Erich von Stroheim’s original Greed, running at a length of some 40-odd reels, that is completely absent from the release version. As I’ve noted in my monograph about Greed (BFI Classics, 1993), an enormous amount of narrative material was added by Stroheim to the plot of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague: “Nearly a fifth of the plot (a quarter of the [latest version that we have] of the script — 69 out of 277 manuscript pages) transpires before one arrives at McTeague eating his Sunday dinner at the car conductors’ coffee joint, the subject of the novel’s opening sentence. Mac’s life prior to his arrival in San Francisco, which takes up about a quarter of this prologue — over twenty-four pages in the published script — comprises an elaboration of only two shortish paragraphs in the novel.
“A brilliantly designed and extended sequence that comes four pages later in the published script, and encompasses about thirty pages more, introduces all the other major characters in the film [including three that are entirely missing from the release version] on a ‘typical’ Saturday, the day that precedes the novel’s opening, without establishing any connections between them apart from the fact they live in the same building. It seems entirely plausible that Harry Carr — who described watching a forty-five-reel-version of Greed between 10:30 am and 8:30 pm—had this sequence at least partially in mind when he wrote in Motion Picture Magazine (April 1924), “Episodes come along that you think have no bearing on the story, then twelve or fourteen reels later, it hits you with a crash.”
3. Undoubtedly the most significant change brought about in Rivette’s re-editing of the serial between 1989 and the early 90s was his deletion of Léaud’s powerful climactic scene, which is no longer part of the film. (The only other changes I’m aware of involve the order of certain sequences.) This lengthy plan-séquence occurred originally just after a comparably lengthy scene between Bulle Ogier and Bernadette Lafont. (In fact, the final episode in its original, ninety-minute form showed all four of the major characters — Ogier, Léaud, Berto, and Lonsdale — going to pieces in a separate extended sequence; no trace of any of these four sequences is to be found in Spectre. Lonsdale’s scene is placed last, and his reduction from director-patriarch to a mass of blubbering jelly on a beach seems to bring the serial full circle from the wordless hysteria of his group’s first exercise.)
I suspect that this hair-raising sequence, which showed Colin alone in his room in a state of hysteria oscillating between despair and (more briefly) exuberance, carried too many suggestions of Léaud’s subsequent real-life emotional difficulties for Rivette to feel comfortable about retaining it. When Léaud appeared at the Viennale in 2013 to speak about the film, along with its heroic producer Stéphane Tchalgadjieff (whose other adventurous credits include India Song, Rivette’s Duelle, Noroît[both 1976], and Merry-Go-Round, Straub-Huillet’s Fortini-Cani, and Bresson’s The Devil, Probably; Out 1, moreover, was the first film he produced) and myself, he didn’t allude to this deletion. But it also became clear that he’s never seen the serial in its entirety; he spoke mainly about his earlier friendship with Rivette and the influence played by North African music on his harmonica wails.
Based on my notes taken at the 1989 Rotterdam screening, the missing sequence, punctuated by a few patches of black leader, showed Colin crying, screaming, howling like an animal, banging his head against the wall, busting a closet door, writhing on the floor, then calming down and picking up his harmonica. After throwing away all three of the secret messages he has been trying for most of the serial to decode, he starts playing his harmonica ecstatically, throws his clothes and other belongings out into the hall, dances about manically, and then plays the harmonica some more. Dramatically and structurally, this raw piece of psychodrama inevitably suggested certain parallels with the sequence relentlessly recording Jean-Pierre Kalfon’s self-lacerations with a razor in Rivette’s L’Amour fou — a disturbing piece of self-exposure in which the fictional postulates of the character seem to crumble into genuine pain and distress, representing in both films a dangerous crossing of certain boundaries into what can only be perceived as madness.
Note: This article draws material from two previous essays (“Work and Play in the House of Fiction,” Sight and Sound, Autumn 1974, and “Tih-Minh, Out 1: On the Nonreception of Two French Serials,” The Velvet Light Trap, spring 1996) and a few other previous texts, most of them available at jonathanrosenbaum.net