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Film / Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is an experimental film made in 1968, written, directed by, and starring William Greaves.

The film concerns a film crew shooting a fictional movie called Over the Cliff in New York City's Central Park. Multiple actors are shown testing for the roles of "Freddy" and "Alice" before Greaves seems to settle on his two leads. A film crew shoots actors Don Fellows and Patricia Ree Gilbert in the roles of Freddy and Alice, running through a scene in which Alice calls Freddy a homosexual and says she wants out of their dysfunctional relationship.

There's a second film crew on site, shooting a documentary of the first crew as it goes about conducting its screen tests for Over the Cliff. Then there's a third film crew on site, shooting the second crew as it shoots the first crew, as well as filming anything else of interest happening in the park. And beyond even that, there are additional scenes in which the crew of Over the Cliff meets by themselves in the absence of Greaves and commiserates on their frustrations with his idiosyncracies as a director.

Greaves was a documentarian who conceived of this film as a way to explore the nature of reality and the effect of the observer on what he observes. He spent three years editing this project, which was originally conceived as the first part of a five-part series (hence the "Take One"), before submitting it for screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. It was rejected by the programmers at Cannes, and afterward sat on the shelf for years. Actor Steve Buscemi caught a screening in 1993 and took an interest in the film, which finally led to a theatrical and home video release in 2001.

Susan Anspach, who became a star two years later with her role in Five Easy Pieces, appears as one of the actresses testing for Alice. None other than the great Miles Davis composed and performed the score.


  • Authority in Name Only: The film explores the power behind titles in the filmmaking process and what it takes for those dynamics to shift. What really gives a director authority over his crew? The crew discuss this, with one of them revealing (ever so tastefully) that they don't want to "rape" Will's artistic vision, even though they question his competence.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: So the director thinks, anyway. He says "Where's that woman with the tits?" and, on cue, the camera whirls and captures a busty blonde riding through the park on a horse. "Get her, get her, they're bouncing", says Greaves.
  • Camp Gay: Discussed Trope. Apparently "Fred" is bisexual at the least. Don Fellows asks Greaves whether or not he should play "Fred" as more Camp Gay.
  • Crazy Homeless People: The last sequence in the film involves a crazy, drunken homeless guy who wanders into their production and delivers a profane rant.
  • Male Gaze: Greaves expressly states that his film is about human sexuality, and the "character" he plays is quite sexist. There's a scene where the camera focuses on a woman's bottom, another scene where the camera catches an actress with the back of her dress undone, and a memorable shot where the camera captures a buxom woman riding a horse through the park.
  • Melodrama: Over the Cliff is this. The scene that Greaves and his actors keep running through is a very cheesy, hammy exchange in which "Fred" demands to know what's wrong, only for "Alice" to blame him for forcing her to get multiple abortions and failing to satisfy her sexually. In one scene Graves's sound technician says how irritating it is to hear such terrible dialogue over and over and over again.
  • Meta Fiction: With the rampant Show Within a Show recursiveness, there's no way of definitively telling what's staged and what's not, as the crew duly lampshade.
  • Mockumentary: The Mockumentary genre is present here in Unbuilt Trope form. After all, there is no real movie called Over the Cliff being screen-tested; that is a fictional plot element written by William Greaves in order to hang his movie around. And while its unclear how much of the rest of the film is scripted, Greaves himself is definitely playing a character, a film director who is both egregiously sexist and kind of incompetent, leading to frustration from the rest of the actors and crew.
  • Recursive Reality: "You're the person that's in charge of filming this film being filmed." The whole movie is basically a Russian nesting doll.
  • Show Within a Show: There's Over the Cliff, the movie that supposedly is in some early stage of production with actors conducting screen tests. Then there's the documentary about making that movie, and the documentary of the documentary of that movie.
  • Split Screen: Heavy use of this throughout the movie to juxtapose the output of the various film crews—the one filming the scene, the one filming the one filming the scene, and the one filming the one filming the one filming the scene.
  • Word Purée Title: Graves took the already odd jargon word "symbiotaxiplasm", supposedly meaning "those events that transpire in the course of anyone's life that have an impact on the consciousness and the psyche of the average human being, and how that human being also controls or effects changes or has an impact on the environment", and then chucked in "psycho" just to make it longer and weirder.
  • Writer Revolt: In-Universe. Some of the crew try to stage a revolt against Will as they grow to question his artistic vision, though it doesn't really go anywhere. Most of them still go along with Will's plan and are content with chilling in the park.