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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

This rarely screened classic of American indie cinema is both an ingenious film about the structure and psychology of filmmaking and a portrait of New York around 1968.

Poster symbiopsychotaxiplasm take one 0

Filmmaker William Greaves (1926-2014) had already made his mark as a documentary filmmaker and TV producer when he decided to make a film in 1968 about “Freddie” and “Alice”, a New York couple in a relationship crisis. He presented the outcome, a narrative experiment presented as docufiction, to the programmers of the Cannes Film Festival. The film was not selected, however, and only premiered in the 1990s during a Greaves retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

relationship problems

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is now regarded as one of the most inventive and inspiring reflections on the dynamics between actors, crew and filmmaker, the power of the film editor and the structure of storytelling. Greaves provides a stratified narrative about a couple trying to sort out their relationship problems as they walk through Central Park.

The film presents itself as a series of screen tests; a camera films the auditioning actors, a second camera films Greaves in action and a third camera films the whole thing. Greaves is also behind the camera, exposing the entire mechanism of film, ranging from the relations between the crew (who are also filming), actors and filmmaker to the dynamics between film crew and their environment.

the authority of the director

It”s a typically 1960s film in that the authority of the director is constantly being challenged: how “collective” is the end result when it is the filmmaker who”s responsible for the final cut? Issues like abortion and homosexuality – both criminal offences in New York State in the 1970s and 1980s – are also on the political agenda of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm.

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Fifty years ago, students, factory workers and filmmakers challenged the Establishment, from Paris to Mexico City, carrying not only bricks but also agile and light 16mm cameras.

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campaign image 1968: You Say You Want a Revolution (© Bruno Barbey)
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