Every so often it can feel like there’s nothing new to discover out there in cinemaland. Then out of left field comes a film like Symbiopsychotaxiplasm by William Greaves. Almost 40 years old and virtually unknown, it’s the kind of film that makes you remember again why you got into the cinephile game in the first place: for that ecstatic jolt of seeing the world anew through someone else’s eyes. Although it was made in 1968, Greaves’ film brings the jolt like it was shot tomorrow; it feels that fresh, that far ahead of its time. Yet inspired by a tenacious spirit of experimentation and possibility, the film is also deeply rooted in its own cultural moment. Set almost entirely in Central Park, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm wears its structure on its sleeve. On camera, Greaves endlessly runs a pair of actors through the same dialogue while two crews, one filming the performances, the other filming the filming, look on with increasing bewilderment about what’s going on and why. As the production continues, crew members huddle in clandestine meetings to sort out if they are being led by a genius or an incompetent. The layers of reality and representation start piling up fast and furious until no one, especially the audience, can be sure of anything. Ultimately, it’s a work of brilliance masquerading as a disaster with Greaves breezily waltzing through the chaos like it was just another Sunday in the park. Obviously, no movie goes from total obscurity to being released on DVD by Criterion without being a known quantity to someone, somewhere, and Criterion’s two-disc set places the film in context with a documentary on Greaves’ fascinating career and an essay by critic Amy Taubin. The second disc is devoted to Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1?2, a follow-up feature produced by Steven Soderbergh and directed by Greaves in 2003. An admirable attempt to extend Greaves’ initial experiment, it revisits the characters and terrain of the original film but only proves that you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.
Also released this week: DVD: The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Final Season; Barnyard: The Original Party Animals; Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One for the Road; Bugsy: Extended Cut; Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 2; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Four-Disc Extended Edition; Dean Martin Double Feature: How to Save a Marriage (and Ruin Your Life)/Who Was That Lady; The Devil Wears Prada; Full House: The Complete Fifth Season; The House of Sand; The James Bond Ultimate Edition, Vols. 3 & 4; Kung Fu Hustle; Law & Order Criminal Intent: The Second Year; Loving Annabelle; Mozart and the Whale; My Geisha; She’s the Man; St. Elsewhere: Season One; Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; À tout de suite; The Weeping Meadow; Will Rogers Collection, Vol. 2; World Trade Center.
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