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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (The Criterion Collection)

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In William Greaves’s spontaneous, one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, Greaves presides over a beleaguered troupe of camera and sound men in New York’s Central Park in 1967, leaving them to try and decipher exactly what it is they’re making: a strange, bickering couple enacting a break-up scenario over and over; a documentary crew filming a crew filming the crew; locals wandering casually into the frame. A multilayered and wildly entertaining deconstruction of cinema, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm defies easy description yet remains one of the most tightly focused movies ever made about making movies.


Director William Greaves, who based Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One on the social science term "symbiotaxiplasm," signifying that all human-involved events influence their environment and vice versa, made this sophisticated film that captures the sexual dynamics of a feuding couple in a park by filming everything that occurs around them, including dramas among the film crew. This meta-film, radically experimental for its era, paved the way for the "making-of" films so popular now, though Symbio is more editorially ambitious. Its plot is complicated by inserted footage of Greaves' crew's "mutiny" as they covertly film criticisms of the director as a way to vent frustrations about the film's conceptual logic. Patricia Ree Gilbert and Don Fellows play, among other actors, a couple fighting about the husband's latent homosexuality and the wife's wish for kids. As they hurl insults at each other on one camera, two more cameras trail the Director, the DP, vociferous crew member Bob Rosen, and random park visitors. Multiple camera angles of each scene convolute traditional filmic roles as the Director often co-opts the action. A soundtrack by Miles Davis takes over during parts when the film seems likely to crumble under its lofty constraints. This Criterion Collection release features Take Two, a film with the same premise but with different actors, and a new film by Steven Soderbergh, Take 2 1/2. Starring Greaves fan Steve Buscemi, Greaves once again ventures into Central Park to film the reunion of the same fighting couple. Take 2 1/2 is dull compared to the original, though its footage of Greaves discussing Take One at an awards ceremony provides valuable documentary information. --Trinie Dalton

Special Features

  • New digital transfer
  • "Discovering William Greaves" documentary
  • New video interview with Steve Buscemi
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Booklet with a new essay by Amy Taubin and production notes by Greaves for Take One

Product Details

  • Actors: Patricia Ree Gilbert, Don Fellows, Jonathan Gordon, Bob Rosen, William Greaves
  • Directors: William Greaves
  • Writers: William Greaves
  • Producers: Bill Stitt, Louise Archambault, Manny Meland, Manuel Melamed, Steve Buscemi
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: December 5, 2006
  • Run Time: 174 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000IY02VU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,077 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on February 19, 2007
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One of the most impressive things about the Criterion DVD label is its willingness to select offbeat and challenging titles. A film's inclusion in the Criterion Collection, in fact, almost guarantees that it will be seen by a more diverse group of viewers than might have originally sought the DVD out. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing, (but usually good) especially on titles that will really only appeal to a specific target audience. Such is the case with the experimental documentary "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm." I think individuals fascinated by the creative art of filmmaking will be intrigued and entertained--specifically film students, scholars, theorists, documentarians, and the like. For casual viewers, however, the film's appeal may be somewhat limited--so I recommend that you know what you're getting into before you purchase this DVD.

The DVD set contains two films--"Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" and "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2." In "Take One," shot in 1968, director William Greaves takes a full film crew to New York's Central Park. There he films various actors tackling a fairly provocative script about sex and relationships. The scenes depicted, over and over, are reminiscent of a second rate Tennessee Williams' script in their melodrama and psychosexual dialogue. Employing different cameras, he not only films the actors, but himself, members of the crew, and patrons in the park (specifically those he feels represent some aspect of what is being enacted). It's a chaotic set where no one really knows what is going on--but it can be a fascinating look at the process in action. The crew know that Greaves is trying for an all-encompassing documentary, but have differing opinions on its intent or what form it should take.
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Rating this film is extremely difficult. I eventually settled on three stars, despite parts of the film that I wanted to rate at both extremes of the scale. This release contains two DVD's, "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One" filmed in 1968 in and around Central Park, and "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2" made in 2003 featuring a special appearance by Steve Buscemi.

The film is absolutely original and uncategorizable. It was made by the brilliant filmmaker William Greaves as an experimental film which is like a Möbius strip, constantly looping back upon itself both in repeatedly iterated scenes, and stylistically via the conversations and events occurring within the cast and crew being documented making the movie. The film is very stream-of-consciousness, avant-garde, and amateurish in places. It features intercutting of the actual scenes being filmed and the crew at work, with frequent (sometimes annoyingly frequent) split-screen shots and unrelated, seemingly pointless narration. Ultimately, though, these qualities combine into the film Greaves envisioned, complete with openly expressed self doubts of the filmmakers. Meetings had a staffers saying things like "Here is an open-ended film with no plot," and "I don't see where there's a beginning, or a middle, or an end, and perhaps most tellingly "Nothing is being revealed, and that's the genius of this film." I'm not sure it's genius, but it does achieve its goal of challenging the conventions of what a movie is conceptually, and in that regard, Greaves is spectacularly successful.
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This film, originally released in 1968 and reissued by Criterion in a two-disc set, is a fascinating look inside moviemaking. Or is it? The beauty of it is that you never know for sure. Alleging to be following the shooting of a film in Central Park, the narrative sways from actual footage of the actors to b-roll of the surrounding crowd to behind-the-scenes dramas among the cast and crew. You're never certain which thread is supposed to be the 'real' one, or if in fact any of them are real, or if the whole thing is staged (even the 'candid' material). The artifice of the cinema, and at the same time its ability to redefine reality, are exposed. Everything seems fascinating and banal, relevant and irrelevant, all at the same time. It's amazing to watch, and provides an interesting commentary on some of the pretensions of the cinema verite movement. I've really never seen anything else like it. And, as usual, the Criterion print is beautiful. And even if you don't enjoy the film, this package is still worth buying for the documentary on William Greaves (the director in the film), who has produced an incredible range of documentaries throughout his career.
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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.
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