#312) Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
OR “The Dailies Show”
There’s a better subtitle out there – something more meta – but we’ll keep this for now.
Directed & Written by William Greaves
Class of 2015
No trailer, but this clip gives you a sense of the movie. Or not.
The Plot: Alice and Teddy (Patricia Ree Gilbert and Don Fellows) are a couple whose marriage is rapidly falling apart. Their confrontation in Central Park is actually a scene being filmed by William Greaves for a movie called “Over the Cliff”. A second film crew is documenting the interaction between Greaves, the actors, and the crew. A third camera crew is covering Greaves, the actors, the crew, the second crew, and anyone who happens by the shoot. And a film blogger (Tony Cirimele) is observing the final film some 50 years later for a review. Well, they’re not really reviews. These posts are more like observations. I guess it’s easier to observe than to critique.
Why It Matters: This movie gets a very long write-up by the NFR, which calls it, among other things, a “unique 1960s’ time capsule”. Portions of the write-up are lifted from the accompanying essay by film professor Maria San Filippo.
But Does It Really?: “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” is one of the rare Registry entries that is absolutely one-of-a-kind. The whole process, as well as the process on top of the process, fascinated me. There are labyrinthine depths to this film, though I never quite seem to get the extra layers on films like these. Am I being too soft on these movies? Do I just give them a pass because I acknowledge that they’re complicated? And I just threw out the word “labyrinthine” like the kind of film snob I detest. But hey, with 750 of these I’m bound to repeat myself, right? Anyway, a pass to “Symbio” and William Greaves.
You know, I’ve always wanted to do a post that falls apart midway through. Maybe this is the film that will allow me to do that.
Everybody Gets One: After a stint at the Actors Studio, William Greaves pursued a performance career, but grew increasingly frustrated with the African-American stereotypes he was forced to play. Greaves studied film at the National Film Board of Canada and started a prolific career as a documentarian. While working on the TV Show “Black Journal” in his native New York, Greaves had the idea of combining his loves of acting and film into what he coined “a feature-length we-don’t-know-what”.
Wow, That’s Dated: References to then-current political figures former Governor George Wallace and New York City Mayor John Lindsay. But unfortunately, this being 1968 and all, the term “faggot” is thrown around a lot. A. Lot.
Take a Shot: Greaves explains his reasoning behind the title in the sequel: “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 ½”. Oh wait; I shouldn’t be mentioning the sequel this early. I’ll hold off until later. Forget I said anything. Anyway, it’s a variation on “symbiotaxiplasm”, a concept that is essentially a microcosm where everything affects everything else.
- Don Fellows was a stage actor who is best remembered for his performance as Col. Musgrove, co-provider of exposition in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Very little is known about Patricia Ree Gilbert, and this is her only film. That’s a shame: Gilbert is the more natural film actor of the two. Fellows never quite tones down his natural stage presence.
- “You’ve got me foxed”? Who says foxed anymore? Or ever?
- How many of the couples being filmed during the opening credits actually signed a release form?
- While not the only film on the Registry that blurs the line between fiction and reality, this is definitely an improvement over “David Holzman’s Diary”.
- Maybe it’s staged, but I eat up artists discussing how to approach a scene like caviar. That’s an expression, right?
- The crew gets together each night after the shoot to vent, as well as to question Greaves’ motivations. Arguments of creative control are never fun, especially when you’re stuck in the middle.
- Alice is Ellen Burstyn-esque. Make that, Alice has an Ellen Burstyn quality to her. Better.
- Does anyone else notice that most of my “Other notes” are from the first half of these films?
- Whoa, what got bleeped? All other language goes uncensored, but Don is bleeped while discussing his character’s sexuality, apparently comparing Teddy to a real person. Did he accidentally out someone as bi?
- Speaking of, Don (intentionally or not) gets more theatrical as the film progresses, and he always seems to be “on” for the cameras. I think we found this movie’s Michael Scott.
- Hang on, there’s a work email I need to read. To be honest, sometimes I check my phone during these viewings. It’s not that I’m bored; sometimes I just can’t focus.
- All of this discussion about the movie from Greaves and the crew begs the question: Can you analyze an unfinished piece of art?
- They’re devoting a lot of screentime at the end to this homeless drunk. It’s a grating voice with no end in sight, why is this the climax of any movie?
- I try to end the “Other notes” section with something that either comments on the ending or sums up my feelings on the film. But sometimes that doesn’t happen.
This movie doesn’t really have a legacy, per se.
“Symbiopsychotaxiplasm” didn’t get a distribution deal, but Greaves would show the film at festivals and schools across the country. One of the audience members at its 1993 Sundance screening was Steve Buscemi, who helped raise funding for a theatrical release. Thanks to Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh, “Symbio” finally got released in 2001, and four years later received the first of its four proposed sequels. “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 ½” (the one I didn’t mention earlier) reunites Greaves and several of his crew members to shoot another film, while commenting on the original film’s newfound cult following. It’s a film within a film that is a follow-up to a film within a film within a film, and comments on the original film within a film, as well as the film itself.
Well, it didn’t quite “fall apart” the way I wanted it to, but it’s definitely different from the other posts. And I guess that’s all I really wanted in the first place. Of course I could stop all of this any time I want to. No one’s holding a gun to my head. It’s just a nice motivator to keep writing. But perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. And… “Publish”.
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