Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#360: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm

(William Greaves, 1968)

What if Close-Up had been made by hippies? OK, maybe that's an oversimplification of both movies, but Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is certainly a meta-heavy exploration of the nature of cinema, and there happen to be a lot of people saying "man" in it who have hair that is not military-length. However, Close-Up seemed to me to be much more about the nature of watching a film, while this film is more about the nature of making one.

What's most interesting about the movie is how mysterious its intentions are. Are they actually trying to make a movie and filming the process, or is the process of filming the making of a movie the actual movie they are making? When the crew gets together to discuss the process, did they really do so without Greaves's permission, or is that a fabricated premise? And even if they did, doesn't the fact that Greaves included the scene in the film - and in many ways made it the core of the film - indicate that he fostered the kind of environment he was looking for with his initial concept? Simply by revolting against his authority, the crew may have made his film a success.

Further adding to the enigma of the film are the social cues that stick out with the passage of time. While the idea of a black director is much less conspicuous now than it was then, the flippant dialogue centered around the film-within-a-film's homophobic theme (along with some blatant sexism from the crew) must be evaluated from a modern perspective, which makes it even more difficult to look at the big picture and examine the film's true intentions.

These layers make Symbiopsychotaxiplasm an intriguing adventure in filmmaking and film viewing, but hardly an easily digestible piece of entertainment. The pleasure you derive from the film stems entirely from how much effort you put into it, particularly because the film lacks any resolution or even any real conclusion. It shouldn't be surprising that Steven Soderbergh, who has amassed one of the most unconventional oeuvres in mainstream American film, would be one of the major champions of the movie. Much of his more unusual work, particularly Bubble, Full Frontal, and one of his three Criterion entries, Schizopolis, finds its most novel ideas through an investigation of the nature of narrative film and its interaction with the audience. Schizopolis is arguably the best of these four films, but Symbiopsychotaziplasm goes so far down the rabbit hole that the journey feels even more exciting, despite a somewhat empty destination.


  1. I just started watching this film and I must admit, the blatant and over-the-top homophobia really seems strange and perverse. I'm not feeling any of the excitement, however. The people are too unfocused and uninteresting thus far.

  2. Do you feel that the homophobia is coming from the movie itself, or simply from the characters in the movie (and the characters in the movie within the movie)? I guess I'm asking if you think the film is confirming the premise of the film within the film or criticizing it.

    I think what I meant by exciting is the sense of the new, but I agree 100% that it is difficult to find a likable or even sympathetic character.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment, and I hope I showed you the life of the mind!