Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is a rarely-screened American indie classic that is both an ingenious film about the structure and psychology of filmmaking and a portrait of New York around 1968. Split-screen 35mm presentation.
Filmmaker William Greaves (1926-2014) already had a track record as a documentary maker and TV producer when he decided to make a film about ‘Freddie’ and ‘Alice’, a couple facing relationship problems in New York in 1968. The result, a narrative experiment presented as a docudrama, was submitted to the programmers at Cannes Film Festival. The film was rejected, however, and only premiered in the 1990s at a Greaves retrospective in New York’s Brooklyn Museum.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is now regarded as one of the most creative and inspiring reflections on the dynamics between actors, crew and filmmaker, the power of the editor and the structure of storytelling. Greaves provides an ingeniously stratified narrative in which a man and a woman try to work out their sexual and interpersonal problems in Central Park. He forces her to have an abortion every time she gets pregnant, she accuses him of dodging family responsibility and calls him a ‘closet homosexual’.
The first film concentrates on screen tests; a camera films the auditioning actors. The second film shows Greaves at work while a third film documents everything else that is going on. Greaves himself is also behind the camera, exposing the entire mechanism of film, ranging from the dynamics between the crew (who are also filming), actors and filmmaker to the interaction between the film crew and their surroundings (Central Park on an average day, a policeman on horseback asking them to show authorisation).
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 – were also high on the political agenda at the time.