William Greaves is known for his documentary work for PBS, the United Nations and the United States Information Agency and between 1968 and 1970, Greaves was the executive producer and co-host of "Black Nation" (the first African-American produced news and public affairs show on television) which the filmmaker won various awards including an Emmy. Having a distinction as one of the original African-American filmmakers.
Having studied at Actor's Studio and having roles on Broadway, Greaves was also an actor. But within his wonderful career, a film that written, directed and produced in 1968 titled "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" is considered as an avant-garde film because it was a film experiment in which William Greaves brought together a film crew and fellow acting students to Central Park and everyone believes they are actually filming a movie (in which they are), while a documentary film crew films what's going on behind-the-scenes.
While the film crew focuses on the talent, and the documentary crew focuses on the film crew...everyone has their opinions. Debating on Greaves approach to filmmaking and people bad mouthing the director and the whole situation while being filmed. No one truly understands what is going on but they continue, because they feel that despite Greaves being a good/bad director...it's his perspective of how he wants to do things. If they disagree, it doesn't matter. As long as they go along on the ride and see what happens.
The film captures 1968 life and filmmaking at that time as 16mm cameras are being used. Cameras that hold only eleven minutes of film and having to try and sync them and technology used of yesteryear. In some ways, "symbiopsychotaxiplasm" is like a time capsule of how film crews work together and how they work with the staff. But in a way, unorthodox because of Greaves approach to the filmmaking.
What we do know is that William Greaves is not just a filmmaker, he's an actor. Who is the real William Greaves? Is what see on film an act or was it for real?
"Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves" is featured on two DVD's, with each DVD featuring one film: the 1968 "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" film and 2003 sequel "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2'.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" is featured with an aspect ratio of 1:33:1 so the black bars will appear on the left and right of the image. As for picture quality, the 1968 film shot on 16mm actually looks pretty good considering that this was filmed over 40-years-ago. According to Criterion, the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm print. But William Greaves wanted corrections tot he picture and sound to be kept at a minimum to retain the "authentic" look of the film.
Greaves said that one of the theories behind the making of the film was that any "mistake" that was consciously or unconsciously made during or after filming would add to the immediacy of viewers' experience and making them more involved in the filmmaking process.
Criterion also used their MTI Digital Restoration System to remove instances of dirt, debris and scratches caused by the degradation of film sources.
As for "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2', the aspect ratio is 1:78:1 and was created from the original 16mm and 35mm elements from Take One and modern digital video sources from various tape formats. So, the first half of "Take 2 1/2' is similar to Take One but as we get to the screening of the film and then the newer footage, there is a difference in film quality which is natural as the film source is from 1968 and 2003.
As for audio, the soundtrack is mono and according to Criterion, the soundtrack was mastered in 24-bit from optical soundtrack prints and audio restoration tools were used to remove occasional pops, hiss and crackle. The film is center channel driven but on surround system, people can switch to two-channel playback. Or if you have a receiver that can send audio to all channels, even better.
"symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves" comes with the following special features:
* Discovering William Greaves - (1:01:13) A documentary created by The Criterion Collection, William Greaves, filmmaker St. Clair Bourne, actress Ruby Dee, wife and producing partner Louise Archambault and film scholar Scott MacDonald discuss William Greaves career and symbiopsychotaxiplasm in depth.
* Theatrical Trailer - (1:21) A trailer made in 2005 for Janus Films theatrical distribution for "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One".
* Steve Buscemi Interview - (12:41) A 2006 interview with actor Steve Buscemi talks about his experience of watching "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" back in 1992 and how he pledged his support for William Greaves and future sequels. And his involvement with "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2'.
Also, included is a 34-page booklet featuring an essay titled "still no answers" by Amy Taubin, production notes written by William Greaves prior to and during the filming of "symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" and produced in "Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts" by Independent Filmmakers, edited by Scott McDonald. Definitely wonderful reading, especially to read what was going on in the mind of William Greaves during the making of the 1968 film.
"symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves" is unlike anything that one expects to see from THE CRITERION COLLECTION. In fact, I am so happy that Criterion decided to release these two films on DVD and recognize this avant-garde work of Greaves.
I looked at the film as the precursor to what people are now seeing on YouTube or network shows. Greaves called the film as an exploration into the future of cinema art. Improvisation. A rebellion against traditional cinema form. The film crew which features hippies filming a movie about suburbanites is an understatement. This is a film that filmmakers can watch and see how work is done, even though Greaves intentionally (or intentionally) makes them feel uneasy about their job and not knowing what to do.
Reading the insert booklet, Greaves said that his goal was to make a conventional theatrical short inside a major unconventional feature film. A conventional screen test inside a major unconventional feature film. Letting nature run its course and what you see are people's emotions driving this film. Spontaneous and true reactions which is captured on film.
Personally for me, during my college project, I had my staff and talent during the long arduous process of waiting for scenes to be completed, having a camera to record their thoughts, their feelings, their frustrations and as a filmmaker, I can understand what William Greaves probably may have felt when he had to edit this film. But its that spontaneity that you want captured, is what makes it all worthwhile and that's why I enjoyed both films a lot.
And what a solid release from The Criterion Collection. You get both films on DVD, an hour long documentary on William Greaves and also a featurette with an interview with Steve Buscemi. If anything, I looked at this release as "Take One" being the major film and "Take 2 1/2', although a sequel, more like an extra bonus that one can enjoy differently.
"symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves" is a DVD release that I can easily recommend to those who are thespians or filmmakers. For the casual viewers, only if they have an interest in the filmmaking process. This is not your typical film with a plot, it's literally a film experiment of capturing true emotions and how it starts to work itself out during the making of the film. So, I'm quite grateful for The Criterion Collection for giving this a proper and solid release but also to Steve Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh for giving Greaves the opportunity for a sequel over 30 years later.
I believe that the more you research this film (which I did prior to purchasing it), you're going to get a lot of different interpretations from various viewers and their thoughts and what they got out of it. It's improvisation in filmmaking at its best. It's the capturing of human emotion during the late 1960's, peace and love with guerrilla filmmaking at its core. A time capsule from 1968 and continued in 2003, two films which I believe is worth seeing. It's not your typical film, there is no overlying plot from beginning to end but more of an experiment caught on film with interesting results. And in the end, a truly unique and solid DVD release from The Criterion Collection that is worth giving a try!