Jacques Rivette has died. He was 87, and apparently has been suffering from Alzheimers disease for the past few years - I had heard he was ill, and so am not surprised. Still; saddened. The news come the day after I finally finished paying my 88 pounds for the new Out 1 collection - unfortunately, before this object crossed the ocean to my front door, so I can't spend the next week watching it... But it is coming...
He is One of the Great Ones. I haven't posted any kind of list of favorite directors lately, but if I did, he would be up there - top 10 somewhere. I came to him late - most of my favorites I discovered in the mid and late 90s, when I started watching films obsessively. I saw some Rivette in that period, but didn't see enough until 2007, when I saw a whole series - that immediately elevated him to his place among the greats. I do remember when I first heard about him - when La Belle Noiseuse came out - that was before I was an obsessive filmgoer, and the main thing I remember about it is that it was a very French film about a painter that had some actress naked for 3 hours. Some time after that, probably around 1998 or 99, I finally saw a Rivette - Haut Bas Fragile - by that time I had become an obsessive filmgoer, I knew who Jacques Rivette was, in a general sense (historically), and had seen some films obviously influenced by him - Pascal Bonitzer's Encore, possibly, or some of the Assayas or Desplechins films that call Rivette to mind... I liked it - quite a bit in fact, though I don't know if I could have explained it at the time. Later, Va Savoir got a bit of an American release, and I saw that in the theaters. And I tried renting the Story of Marie and Julian, though the DVD copy I got was damaged and I missed the opening 15 minutes or so of the film - which made it even more incomprehensible... Though still enjoyable. I liked Va Savoir very much - liked The Story of Marie and Julian well enough. It meant that Rivette had gone into that pile of directors whose films are just too hard to see - so you have to wait for your chance and take it.
That's what happened: the HFA booked a whole run of his films, and I went to see them, starting with Paris Belongs to Us, the Nun and Celine and Julie Go Boating - and those three were enough to put him in the pantheon, and then I saw Out 1: Spectre and L'Amour Fou and Jeanne la Poucelle and La Belle Noiseuse - and that settled it. They all hit me hard - you can see the comments from back when I wrote about films I saw, at the Rivette link - his films, once I saw them clean like that, really hit the sweet spot. All those doubles and old houses and games and plays and lost manuscripts - that stuff fascinates me; the structural games - but also the sense of play, invention, imagination in his films. Their playful postmodernism - if I had been able to see Paris Belongs to Us in 1993 or so, I would have saved a lot of time. Back when I was reading Pynchon and Barth and Gaddis and McElroy and Queneau and DeLillo, and reading about them - it struck me when I saw the film how well it matched them. Like Lookout Cartridge or V, with its mystery plot, lack of resolution, the lost artists and artifacts, the shadiness of the whole thing, the way it comes apart and gels into something sinister at the same time. Seeing it, it felt like something I had been waiting to see - and then I saw Celine and Julie and the short Out 1, and those were even more perfect. They bring in the other great thread in his work - the making of art, of theater, or sometimes music, painting, etc. But especially theater, since it is art as collaboration, as invention and exploration, and as acting things out. Maybe most of all, he gave us a view of art as play. That convinced me. That series, and his films, changed how I saw films, and probably how I saw the world.
It is sad that there will be no more Rivette films - though given what I still haven't seen (the three titles in the Arrow set I just bought, mainly - Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, Duelle and Pont Du Nord), I have plenty to look forward to - and more, his films have a kind of inexhaustibility that makes rewatching them as surprising as watching them. The ones Ive managed to buy never disappoint, and I keep noticing more to them, more twists and ideas and details. And more - his films have been immensely satisfying, intellectually - but they are also, always, exceptionally entertaining. They are full of pleasures, like early Godard, as well as depth and thought. He was one of my favorites, and will be missed.
Work, pleasures and mysteries: