A few weeks back I pressed play on part one of Jacques Rivette’s epic 1971 film Out 1. I knew little about it other than the brief introductory sentences in the art cinema app Mubi. I saw that it had ties to the French New Wave and was promoted with stylish images of Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto. Eight episodes? Thirteen hours? Perfect quarantine viewing.
The film introduces us to two experimental theater groups exploring the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus through long exercises that are physically and emotionally grueling. Not your typical easy viewing Netflix serial. The antics of two outsider loners running separate scams in the streets and cafés of Paris (Léaud and Berto) provide more familiar New Wave cinéma vérité fare, and relief from the rehearsals. Each uncovers clues about a shadowy group calling themselves The Thirteen. The rest of the eight-part film involves the slow revelation of connections between the actors, these outsiders, and the Thirteen.
The film debuted in France in 1971. The Paris uprising of May 1968 was a fresh memory, but having not met its revolutionary goals, a generation of activists were unclear on what — if anything — had been achieved, and what would come next. One reading of the film casts the mysterious group of Thirteen as the 1968 uprising. The others, younger, are drawn to The Thirteen’s mystique, to the hope of exercising influence and control, unaware that — spoiler alert — The Thirteen never accomplished anything.
A generation is typically defined as a 20-30 year age cohort. Those of us born between 1965 and 1980 are Generation X, those born up until 1997 or so are Millennials, etc. But we also use the word to speak of the next people to take on a job or role. In Out 1, a new generation is exploring the formation of a Thirteen, or joining The Thirteen. Will they achieve things the previous generation failed to achieve? What lessons would be useful to hear from someone who has been there before? What lessons are irrelevant given today is a new context? What lessons are simply “learning the ropes,” hardships every generation has to go through?
Sometimes I think these thoughts about the jobs I held in 2008 and 2012. Countless groups aligned with progressives and the Democratic Party are doing similar work. I do not think I was the least bit important in the grand scheme of those elections, but something is lost when people who have been there before move on.
Do I have any wisdom to impart that would be helpful? I’m certain any technical knowledge I once employed — how to use blogs, Twitter, graphics, and email to achieve campaign goals — is either obvious, or antiquated. But are there broader life lessons, perhaps?
Then again, I have these same thoughts when I walk in to coffeeshops I once worked at as a barista. Yes, the shop might have done business differently if I’d stayed on another twenty years. But the city did not suffer caffeine withdrawal when I moved on.