Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½

Dir: William Greaves. 1968.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½

My most favorite movie titles: (1) Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties & (2) Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½, directed by William Greaves. Greaves’ title refers to the term “symbiotaxiplasm,” a concept coined by social philosopher Arthur Bentley. This term describes the assimilated totality of a society and its affects by humans and to humans. Every person, place, object, and thing that a society creates, maintains, and destroys is accounted for in the word symbiotaxiplasm.

Greaves added the “psycho” to affirm how our creativity and psychology can affect our society, and in turn, how we affect it. Make sense? Good. Moving on…

The film starts with a basic premise:  film a man and a woman acting out a script, but call it a screen test not a movie. The script is relationship based, and is melodramatic rubbish - something to make Tennessee Williams roll over in his grave. Then, have another camera, in synchronicity, film the crew filming the scene. Additionally, film the crew filming the crew filming the scene. Occasionally grab shots of extraneous action, curious onlookers, picnics, cops demanding permits, and Greaves himself. All this will eventually cause an insurrection from the crew in which they, on camera, revolt against their tyrannical auteur and start forming their own conclusions about what the film is about and what their role is in the experiment.

Of course, it isn’t just as simple as all that. Greaves’ film defies genre classification and simple understanding. Greaves refuses to provide answers not only for his crew but also to his viewers. Refusing to provide superficial understanding and comprehensive completeness allows for more individualized interpretations to be deduced rather than providing a dictated meaning or authorship. But, Greaves does provide a theme, which serves as foundation for all future action to build upon.

The theme of the film concerns sexuality and relationships. Given that, Grieves pursues different cinematic devices and directorial styles in order to improvise variations on the theme of the film. Improvisation is vital to the film’s documentary realism, unplanned action, and its fullest experimentation with the film medium. The jazz influence is quite apparent in Greaves’ film as well. So much so that Greaves picked “In A Silent Way” by Miles Davis to accompany the film.

As director, Greaves’ role in his own film is quite complex and difficult to pinpoint. It should be noted that William Greaves was also a well-accomplished film and stage actor who studied at The Actor’s Studio in the 1940s. His acting skills and expertise make his clumsy instructions to his crew, his tiresome script, and his misogynistic remarks seem highly dubious and more likely to be a role of his own creation. If Greaves is performing the “role” of a director, then when is he performing and when is he not is a question Greaves never attempts to fully answer.

The result of such an experiment is paramount to our complete understanding of its internal process. As I mentioned earlier, the outcome of Greaves’ experiment was intended to be something incredibly large in scope. So large, it would be impossible for him, or any other director, to make personal statements encompassing every aspect of the symbiotaxiplasm. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½ achieves a stasis between personal auteurism and radical communal authority, overthrowing the tyrannical political order of the filmmaking process. In order to achieve such a magnitude, Greaves knew he had to let go of his control, so that something larger than him could take over and then exponentially increase the film’s scope. This is an aspect of filmmaking seldom attempted and almost never fully realized. Greaves was able to create a personal film of free-flowing ideas, interpretations, actions, and reactions all organically cultivated by everyone involved (and I do mean everyone, perhaps even you).

After a screening at Sundance in early 2000, Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi were so impressed with the film that they decided to fund a sequel, and in Buscemi’s case, participate in it as well. It was always Greaves’s intention to create a series of “Symbio” films, however, his plan was delayed nearly 40 years because of lack of interest from studios and financiers. For all us film lovers, both Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½ and 2 ½ come in an amazing release from The Criterion Collection. If the money made by The Criterion Collection from Chasing Amy, The Rock & Armageddon allowed them the extra cash to put out Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½, it almost seems worth it.

Posted by:
Joey Izzo
Feb 1, 2008 9:00am
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