Photo Credit: Raphael Van Sitteren, via Creative Commons
With profound sadness we at the Wex read that filmmaker Jacques Rivette died this morning at his home in Paris. An incomparable intellectual force and prominent figure in the French New Wave, his work has been a fixture of Wexner Center Film/Video programming, with half of his two dozen features gracing our screen since 2005—impressive given that he always had much to say and rightfully took the time required to say it.
Here we have examined, studied, debated, and enjoyed his oeuvre, from his later works as they were released, The Story of Marie and Julien (2003), The Duchess of Langeais (2007), and Around a Small Mountain (2009); to Claire Denis's insightful, two-part documentary exploration Jacques Rivette: The Night Watchman, screened in 2004; to a memorable Wex retrospective that featured many of his finest works: L’Amour fou (1968), Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974), La Belle noiseuse (1991), and more.
With heavy hearts we look toward our own screenings beginning February 13 of Rivette's monumental, extraordinary Out 1, already the cinematic event of the year and now all the more resonant with his passing.
For a remembrance and consideration of Rivette's legacy, we revisit a short essay by our own Chris Stults, associate curator of Film/Video. Phantom Filmmaker Over Paris was written for our 2007 retrospective of Rivette's work. We then turn to a film scholar who first encountered Rivette's work here in Columbus.
Phantom Filmmaker Over Paris
by Chris Stults
Because of the difficulty in seeing Jacques Rivette’s greatest achievements, he has always hovered like a phantom over the rest of the French New Wave. The films themselves are often spectral presences, too. They are grounded in the physicality of actors and the world but infused with a spirit of fantasy hiding in the shadows. The extended running times of the films allow them to become dreamworlds that develop their own rules—a somnambulistic realism.
Rivette himself is a very shy, solitary figure unlike the self-promoting personalities of Godard, Truffaut, or Chabrol. His films resist fitting into any mold other than “Rivette film,” even when he seems to adopt a familiar genre (as in the “musical comedy” Up, Down, Fragile). But they are far from hermetic, purely aesthetic experiences. His love of improvisation—both in acting and narrative—makes Rivette’s films open-ended, more filled with life itself than any of his New Wave counterparts. Charles Taylor once wrote in Salon that “Rivette makes life feel like a gift…[his] greatest legacy may be the new way you look at your city when you emerge from one of his movies.” As Rivette’s films become briefly corporeal for this series, our hope is that they allow you to see Columbus as a place of as much play, mystery, wonder, and possibility as Rivette’s Paris.
by Dominic Leppla
Jacques Rivette, cineaste of the French New Wave, has died aged 87. Less accessible or known on these shores than compatriots Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, or Chabrol, Rivette’s “difficult” films were nevertheless the Nouvelle Vague’s most playful, if also unsettling—obsessed with conspiracy, theater, and the imagination. They find an American analogue in the novels of Thomas Pynchon, but are less fussy. To this writer they feel closer in spirit to those of Italian master Italo Calvino. Perhaps not coincidentally, I discovered both of these artists while an undergrad at Ohio State.
Like his colleagues at Cahiers du Cinema, Rivette devoured Hollywood as a youth, and he contributed some of the journal’s most happily frenzied prose in its early days, waging war on behalf of the studios. He memorably wrote of Howard Hawks in 1953, “[Y]ou only have to watch Monkey Business to know that it is a brilliant film. Some people refuse to admit this, however; they refuse to be satisfied by proof.” Out of such sentiments grew the journal’s celebrated politique des auteurs, dubbed “auteur theory” by American film writer Andrew Sarris. I came of age in the 1990s, and, no different than previous generations, the tastes and films of Rivette, et al., paved a circuitous route for our young minds back into Hollywood, and beyond.
Rivette adored musicals such as Minnelli’s The Band Wagon (1953), and made his own, distinctly Gallic version with the lovely Haut Bas Fragile (Up, Down, Fragile) in 1995. The latter was one of the first movies I checked out upon becoming an employee of Blockbuster Video on North High, to the bafflement of my coworkers. Rivette even ventured successfully into something like romantic comedy with Va Savoir (Who Knows). Who’d have thought one could take a date to a Rivette, but this is what I did in a Cleveland arthouse back in 2001…
Rivette’s signature work, and the first encounter for most of us, was the mysterious and affecting Céline and Julie Go Boating, one of his many films concerning female relationships. But the recently restored Out 1 (1971), the 13-hour serialized masterpiece long called a “holy grail” for cinephiles, is also now widely available following its digital restoration. With a recent run in New York, a forthcoming screening at the Wexner Center, and the help of another recent Blu-ray release, Le Pont du Nord (1981) starring frequent collaborator Bulle Ogier, Rivette may find a new audience. His devotion to the affective hidden reality of urban environments, to what Situationist contemporary Guy Debord—with whom he is more similar than one might imagine, as evidenced by Rivette's politicized two-year editorship of Cahiers, which began in 1963—called psychogeography, make him ripe for rediscovery in these neoliberal times.
Out 1, courtesy of Carlotta Films.
Chris Stults is associate curator of Film/Video at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Dominic Leppla is a Ph.D. candidate in Film and Moving Image Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema of Concordia University in Montreal, Québec. He was previously coordinating online editor for The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories. Leppla received an MA in Film History and Visual Media at Birkbeck, University of London, and was a staff member of the British Film Institute. A graduate of The Ohio State University, he writes on Polish cinema of the 1970s and teaches and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.