Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) & Take 2 ½ (2005)

A co-worker had recommended these two films to me one day by lending me his DVD copies. After sitting down to watch them on a nice cool spring day I was rather surprised that I enjoyed them as much as I did. Usually, I do not jump at every chance I could get to watch a documentary film unless the subject matter is of personal interest. The first film is called Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) and it was filmed on location in New York City’s famous Central Park. It’s was created as a documentary film, but the entire thing has the emotional stability of a reality television show. The entire premise for Symbio was designed by it’s director Bill Greaves who thought he could fool his film crew into believing they are shooting a collection of audition reels for several acting students for a fictional movie, but he encourages his cameramen to pick up footage of the filming process as well.

All hell breaks loose as the temperament of the film crew grows unstable. They lose confidence in his ability as a director when he can’t keep a tight reign on the direction of the film’s production. Bill Greaves is intentionally causing misdirection so that the crew would respond with conflict. In one particular scene, the film crew has gathered without Greaves’s knowledge and they proceed to film their conversation about his lack of direction.

Some of the members of the group were hoping he would develop the footage and discover they were not thrilled with his lack of skill for production planning. What they did not realize was that they had helped him create the conflict within the production that he was looking to find. The documentary was designed as an experiment to see if a conflict could arise and be resolved within the film’s production. The final cut for the documentary is what was caught on film during the four or five days of the production shoot in Central Park.

The entire documentary is entertaining for me to watch, because I usually enjoy watching the behind-the-scenes featurettes that are attached to a lot distributed DVDs these days. This entire documentary was filmed and edited to show raw material of the business of film production. It was not censored or sugar coated as a promotional piece like some of the DVD bonus features are created to be.

The script that the student actors are memorizing contains harsh and vulgar material that the film crew complains about being unrealistic or low-grade material. The irony that appears in the film is the language and form of conversation that the film crew uses resembles some of the harsh language that appears in the fictitious script. The crew members cuss up a storm just as often as the student actors do when they are performing the words that are written in the script and yet one particular crew member complains about the semantics of the scripted words.

At the end of the original film there is a slate that promises a sequel film. I am left to believe that the second installment would include more footage of the original experiment. Was the crew able to resolve their issue with the director? However, it took thirty-seven years before Bill Greaves was finally able to create Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2 (2005).

The first third of the sequel is a continuation of the original footage that was shot in the 1960s. The student actors are different from what the viewer may remember from the original. The original production shoot utilized several pairs of student actors, but only one particular pair served as a focal point in the final cut.

In Take 2 1/2, the focus has been shifted to another pair of actors who are playing the same character roles that appeared in the first film. To help the viewer adjust to the change in actors Greaves uses the 1960s footage for the first third of the sequel film. After a reasonable amount of time has passed, he jumps ahead to the present day when he attempts at recreating the same scenario in Central Park. He adds a slight twist to the scripted material by having the characters reunite in Central Park after a thirty-plus year absence of communication with each other. The actors are older and the characters they portray are attempting to catch up on the events of their lives from the last three decades.

What makes the sequel inherently different from the experiment in the original film would be the shift in conflict. The original film contained a conflict of interest among the crew, but for the sequel there is a conflict between the actors and the director. Greaves had hired an acting coach to arrive on the set to push the emotional buttons of the actors as far as she could take it until they were about to explode with anger.

As I am watching the yelling occur between the actors I wonder if they are honestly portraying the anger of the character that is being portrayed or if a personal amount of frustration is being vented through the acting. Is the actor conveying the emotions of the character or screaming out of frustration at the acting coach or the director? The material absolutely enthralled me.

In addition to production footage, several taped discussions appear in the second installment that covers the topic of dynamics of the original production. The material adds to the production value of Take 2 1/2, which was I thing is an added bonus. The sequel documentaries were originally created as a social experiment to study the way a production crew would respond to the stimulus. The reactions of the crew and the actors created a perfect conflict that the director was hoping to discover.

With the culminated effort of the first film and my surprising interest in its final cut I would have to rate Take One with definitive nine points out of ten possible review points. Moving on to Take 2 1/2, I would like to emphasize that it was also an interesting documentary film, but I was not pulled into its story of conflict as I was for the first film.

Source: The Criterion Collection

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