Sunday 12 November 2023

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One [1968]

 Pioneering documentarian William Greaves’ formally daring exercise – albeit one that remained undistributed for 23 years, until its stunning “discovery” during a Greaves retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, thanks to its bold curator – blazingly blurred the boundaries between verité and artifice. For this film-within-film-within-film made in NYC’s Central Park, he ostensibly decided to shoot the auditioning process of a short film on marital breakdown, for which he deployed four camera setups – one for the primary shoot focussed on a middle-aged couple; a second one to record the shooting process; a third to provide a peripheral context by capturing passers-by in the park; and finally, the director wielding a mobile camera himself. Meanwhile, the crew are seen growing dissatisfied and potentially mutinous against Greaves – or rather the incompetent, sexist and nonchalant version of himself that he enacts – for his lack of vision and method, and he edits their free-flowing discourses into it, even if it isn’t clear if this was off-screen friction or purposely staged. Alongside its subversion of the lines between nonfiction, direct action and contrivances – reminiscent of the dazzling Moroccan docu-fiction About Some Meaningless Events – and striking use of split screens, this freeform work – jauntily accompanied by Miles Davis’ music – was political too; it was, after all, the time of the New Left, anti-government protests, and Civil Rights and counterculture movements. That an African-American filmmaker was making something as wildly experimental as this, with a predominantly white crew, advocating the idea of dissenting against an authority figure, and openly covering the topics of abortion and closet homosexuality – and thus providing trailblazing manifestations of Black cinema, queer cinema and New Hollywood – made it eminently political, even if not overly so.

Director: William Greaves

Genre: Documentary/Experimental Film/Avant-Garde

Language: English

Country: US

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