Overlooked & Underseen: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is rather hard to describe. If I just called it a straight up documentary, it would be doing it a disservice because it’s way more than that. Actor-director William Greaves decided he wanted to make a documentary about the auditioning process actors have to go through but didn’t like the way it was turning out because he hated the ‘Hollywood’ acting style that he was shooting. Instead, he wanted something more natural, more based in reality. As Greaves had worked and studied at The Actors Studio in New York City, he enlisted the help of some actors there and decided to shoot in Central Park.
Greaves had three different camera crews shooting at once. He wanted to shoot the documentary crew shooting the documentary crew who was shooting the action he had scripted for his actors. It’s so meta it’s not even funny. The ‘movie’ part of the film, the action at the center of it all, has a man and a woman (of course, Greaves uses two different couples for this adding to the insanity) arguing about having a baby. It is clear Greaves was going for something over the top here. ‘Alice’ and ‘Freddy’ are having an argument about having a baby. She’s had ‘abortion after abortion’ for him and questions his love and devotion for her. It’s all very melodramatic. There is a camera crew shooting the stuff between to the two actors and there’s also a crew shooting the crew. Throw in all the random people milling about in Central Park getting snippets of dialogue from the arguing couple, a policeman on horseback checking for permits, and the noise of New York City and you get something completely chaotic. It works, though.
Greaves was one tricky guy, man. On set, Greaves was playing the part of a director who has no clue as to what he’s doing. Of course, Greaves knows exactly what he’s doing but his crew doesn’t know that. While working, Greaves pretends to be totally lost and his crew begins to question what the hell is up. At one point, without Greaves knowledge, the crew gets together in a room with a couple of cameras and shoot themselves discussing how incompetent they think the director is. They’re pretty much filming a mutiny! It’s amazing to watch.
Greaves does a fantastic job editing all this stuff together. Sometimes he splits the screen between what the first crew is shooting (the couple) and what the documentary crew is shooting (the crew shooting the couple). Sometimes, he splits the screen into thirds where you get the crew shooting the couple, the crew shooting the crew shooting the couple, AND the crew shooting the crew shooting the crew shooting the couple. Still with me?
So, you’ve got Greaves acting like he has no idea what he’s doing while directing the movie inside of the movie. You’ve got the various crews ready to walk because they have no confidence in the director who is playing a director. You’ve got two different couples playing the same two characters saying the most soap opera-sounding dialogue. You’ve got all the goodness of the real people in New York City joining in the process. And, just to add to the goodness, Miles Davis provides the soundtrack. Whew!
I beg you to seek out Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. It deserves to be watched. The movie clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and you know you’ve got 75 minutes to spare. Hell, I can spend 75 minutes just trying to figure out what to watch sometimes so I’m saving you the effort.