|Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (2005)
Director: Willia Greaves
“Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” is a movie that cannot be accurately explained, summarized or even reviewed. It’s a confusing mess that at times is nearly impossible to follow or even comprehend on the most basic of levels, but since that was probably its goal in the first place, it’s kind of hard to hold that against it. The film was produced, written and directed in 1968 by documentary filmmaker William Greaves, but it was considered unreleaseable until the early ‘90s, when it finally found an audience on the independent film circuit. Two people that took an extreme interest in the film were actor Steve Buscemi and independent filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who joined forces with Greaves 35 years later to continue the oddball experiment with “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 ½”. Criterion’s “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves” marks the first time either of these unusual and experimental films have ever been released on home video, and will certainly be welcome additions to the DVD libraries of those who enjoy the odder side of cinema.
“Take One” starts out deceptively simple, as a couple fight and argue in the middle of Central Park about the husband’s alleged homosexual tendencies. The dispute, while somewhat interesting, is not something you’d probably want to spend a feature-length movie focusing on, and writer/director/producer Greaves seems to agree, as it is revealed that he is not only intent on filming his actors act out this one scene again and again (and again) in every conceivable way possible, but he also wants to film the crew that is filming the actors. On occasion, he even seems to be attempting to film the crew that is filming the crew filming the actors.
There are so many levels of reality taking place throughout “Take One” that it’s hard to keep track of them, which was precisely Greaves’ intent. It was also his intent not to tell anyone else this, going as far to appear incompetent to his cast and crew in order to get reactions out of them. This results in one of the standout moments of the film, when the crew secretly meets after filming has wrapped one day to argue about what kind of film they are making and if Greaves has any business behind a camera.
“Take One” works not only as an experimental exercise in filmmaking and as a documentary but also as a study in filmmaking itself. As we become more involved with the cast and crew than we do with the story they are being told to film and act out, we begin to see just how complex and involving it can be to make a film; everyone from the male lead to the assistant makeup girl has a story to tell and their own viewpoints as to what kind of movie they are making, and are happy to share them to whichever camera happens to be closest to them at the time.
It’s easy to see why such a bizarre and one-of-a-kind film attracted Steve Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh. Buscemi has never backed away from unique movies in his long and varied career (“Fargo”, “Reservoir Dogs”) and Soderbergh himself has experimented with unusual filmmaking styles and themes with films like “Kafka”and “Schizopolis.” So it’s no surprise that they helped Greaves continue the experiment with “Take 2 ½.” Filmed in 2003, the movie hopes to recapture the magic and spontaneity of the original, but doesn’t quite get there. While the narrative moments are actually better than the ones in the original, everything surrounding them (which is really what matters) is just kind of boring, and Buscemi’s presence seems gratuitous.
The weakness of the “Take 2 ½” shouldn’t detract you from picking this up if you want to explore the wilder side of film and the filmmaking process. A genuine product of the revolutionary ‘60s, the “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm” films are works of art and should be recognized for the revolutionary films that they are. Hopefully this DVD release will help make that happen.
In addition to the two feature films, this two-disc set also includes an interesting hour-long documentary on the life and work of William Greaves and a 10-minute interview with Steve Buscemi on how he discovered the film. Given the unique nature of the films, some commentary tracks would have been nice, as would a ‘where are they now’-style update on the very interesting cast and crew of the original.
~James B. Eldred