Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves

In DVD/Blu-ray by Samuel Love

Described as a ‘documentary documenting a documentary about a documentary’, 1968’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (later subtitled Take One upon the creation of the film’s sequel in 2005) by pioneer filmmaker William Greaves is one of the most unique and metatextual films ever shot. Wildly innovative, the film defies simple explanation – it is as difficult to comprehend as its title. Released on Blu-ray this December by The Criterion Collection alongside its unconventional follow-up Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2½, the hypnotic project is ripe for rediscovery.

Dissatisfied with so-called “Hollywood acting”, Greaves’ attempts to find new ways to bring out reality birthed the 1968 counterculture classic. Bringing in artists from The Actors Studio to perform a scene, Greaves has three crews document the proceedings: the first to simply film the actors’ performance, the second to film the first crew, and the third to document anything including the actors, the two film crews and even passers-by or spectators in the area. The result is, at times, bafflingly complex – Greaves often has split screens displaying two or even all three perspectives at once. The result is a fascinating insight into the filmmaking process and a thrilling time capsule of the late 1960s.

It’s a truly unique experiment and totally ahead of its time, but its unusual content made finding distribution back in the day near impossible. The film fell into obscurity as Greaves toured it at various festivals and museums. Then, fate stepped in. As the film developed a cult status, it caught the attention of actor/filmmaker Steve Buscemi at a Sundance Film Festival screening in 1992, who sought to secure financing for a long overdue release of the original film. Eventually, Buscemi and Greaves teamed up with director Steven Soderbergh resulting in its release, and financing for one of Greaves’ intended four sequels.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2½, which continues the narrative of two of the actors from the original thirty-five years later, this unconventional follow-up is slightly more straightforward. Take 2½ explores the effects of the passage of time on the artistic process, technology and relationships, and is a fascinating companion piece to the first film. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes by William Greaves presents a unique and compelling snapshot of art and creativity, from the mind of a truly underrated genius.

This Blu-ray package from The Criterion Collection combines high-definition digital transfers of both films with uncompressed monaural soundtracks, along with a fascinating documentary on Greaves and a 2006 interview with Steve Buscemi, plus a booklet containing an essay by critic Amy Taubin and production notes by Greaves for Take One.