This audiovideo essay collaboration on Jacques Rivette's Out 1 is the fifth entry in the Out 1 Video Essay Project. Special thanks to Michelle Carey.
Our mission, as we chose to accept it, consisted of a game of exchange between strangers. Each was to give the other a video lettre which would then be returned in sequence, the final structure of the work a literal replication of this back-and-forth dialectic. In order to facilitate a wider dialogue, each letter was to be about a minute long, and constructed mostly through images and sounds from Rivette’s Out 1: noli me tangere. I had never attempted something like this before, nor had I seen Rivette’s mammoth film. During a first viewing, I came to the realization that few movies could offer so many possibilities for an exchange of this nature, with so much potential freedom…and madness.
For my first video letter, in search of inspiration, I sought to look into the origin of the film title noli me tangere, which translates to English literally as “Don’t touch me!” This expression bears a complex relation to Rivette’s film, elements of which will be discussed elsewhere. However, according to one potential origin, this expression refers to an action that unfolds in time and the translation should more properly read as “Don’t hold me!” Rivette's movie was resolutely a work in progress, a complex production set-up that moulded pre-planned and spontaneous actions into a truly filmic rhizome, creating internal resistances and external fissures that seem a reply to just such an admonishment “Don’t hold me!” From there, it only a short distance along to “Don't think!”
Hence, in my dialogue with Joel, I attempted to annul my analytical reason and guide myself through this maze with intuition, inspiration, the appeal of sudden associations… “Don't think!” naturally became “Don't talk!” Thus freed from the rigors of a more disciplined critical approach, I was able to approach both Joel and the viewer on an even playing field. What was to follow was thus left open, our desires locked into the struggles and joys of communication, limited through images and sounds, from one to the other…
In its own way, I felt we shared something of the “spirit of beginnings” as Rivette's inexhaustible film.
When Covi and I first exchanged emails, we toyed with different video essay formats. We decided pretty quickly that we did not want to use narration, but then we went even further—deciding that, at least initially, we would avoid dialogue altogether, though words would inevitably sneak their way into our “Language of Birds" within a few chapters.
Before we got much further we agreed not to discuss ideas, theories, or other approaches via email, and simply allow a dialogue of the videos to grow organically. So what you now see is exactly what we saw when forming our responses, nothing more, nothing less. This would be an enjoyable challenge for both of us while also reflecting the creation of the film itself, in which Rivette worked separately with different actors, slowly weaving their different storylines and performative methodologies together into a gradually developing fiction.
When I received Covi's first video letter I had not yet found the time to re-watch Out 1: noli me tangere. I had seen it in a theater seven years ago and, while I remembered the spell it wove over me, I could not remember the details. So when I saw the clip Covi had chosen for her first lettre, I had forgotten that it took place through a mirror reflection, and that this man (whom viewers of the film will never see again) can see Frederique by looking through the mirror in front of him. It's a playful scene in its original context but, as Covi recut it, it becomes even more playful; I realized right away that even the slightest of changes could create something new.
For my response, I tried to "decode" Covi's work, noticing patterns, technique and focus - in retrospect, much like Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) himself does in the film. My response provided an escalation and counterpoint to what I saw in that first letter, and so the game began. As far as I am concerned, a definite theme emerges over the course of these eight letters—a fascination with contact and isolation, a complex movement between ourselves, the characters onscreen, the original materials. Certain techniques developed intuitively as we shaped the material in dialogue—similarly overlapping shots, blurring the bodies of characters cut off from one another, rewinding action and speech that creates futile yet beautiful backwards motion (which drew from a moment inside Out 1).
I have many other interpretations of various moments and motifs in these videos, both mine and Covi’s. I don't know if they align with her interpretations, or with the viewers’, but that's the beauty of it. By inventing our own ambiguous audiovisual language, we've created a birdsong that will resonate differently with everyone who hears it: same rhythms and textures, different meaning…