One of the most impressive things about the Criterion DVD label is its willingness to select offbeat and challenging titles. A film's inclusion in the Criterion Collection, in fact, almost guarantees that it will be seen by a more diverse group of viewers than might have originally sought the DVD out. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing, (but usually good) especially on titles that will really only appeal to a specific target audience. Such is the case with the experimental documentary "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm." I think individuals fascinated by the creative art of filmmaking will be intrigued and entertained--specifically film students, scholars, theorists, documentarians, and the like. For casual viewers, however, the film's appeal may be somewhat limited--so I recommend that you know what you're getting into before you purchase this DVD.
The DVD set contains two films--"Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" and "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2." In "Take One," shot in 1968, director William Greaves takes a full film crew to New York's Central Park. There he films various actors tackling a fairly provocative script about sex and relationships. The scenes depicted, over and over, are reminiscent of a second rate Tennessee Williams' script in their melodrama and psychosexual dialogue. Employing different cameras, he not only films the actors, but himself, members of the crew, and patrons in the park (specifically those he feels represent some aspect of what is being enacted). It's a chaotic set where no one really knows what is going on--but it can be a fascinating look at the process in action. The crew know that Greaves is trying for an all-encompassing documentary, but have differing opinions on its intent or what form it should take. Without Greave's knowledge, then, they start to rebel--filming meetings of themselves debating the merits and theory behind Greave's vision (or lack thereof). It's a messy look at people who are passionate about film trying to make sense of what they are doing.
In "Take 2 1/2," we pick up in much the same way. The first 40 minutes captures more footage from the shoot of "Take One." The second half, however, shows the film finally being released at a film festival--35 years later! Now the participants who have reunited are still trying to articulate the significance of "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm." Greaves calls it a metaphor of Vietnam, but no one else who was involved can make that connection. After the festival, Greaves and crew (along with Steve Buscemi) set out to recreate the experience. The crew, having knowledge of the project and the previous film, fail to generate much passion or drama--they're just doing their jobs. What we do get, however, is an extended sequence of two actors really going at an improv to get to the heart of their characterizations. It might be one of the most evocative depictions of real actors working their craft that I've ever seen.
I know I've probably been too descriptive (or not enough, I don't even know)--but the films truly are difficult to describe. If you like the film process (or the acting process) and watching it in detail, this might be a useful film. If you like to see or participate in debate about the meaning of film and other aspects of film theory, this film might stimulate your intellect. The film also stands as an interesting, but not overt, look at racism, sexism and some other societal mores inherent in the sixties artistic community. I actually enjoyed these films, but recognize that they are not for everyone. This is experimental film with no beginning or end, and no major revelations or commentaries. Everyone is likely to take something different out of the viewing experience--so I'll leave you with that. KGHarris, 02/07.