In 1968, William Greaves began filming an experimental docu-drama in Central Park called Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, a sort of fiction/non-fiction hybrid that was never released theatrically at the time but is well regarded none-the-less. We recently stumbled back upon it while down the Mad Men rabbit hole of 1968-era New York, and thought it may be a good time to revisit.

Central Park saw its share of crime in the 1960s—in July of 1968 there was a random, fatal shooting on the East Side of the park, which was supposed to be the less violent side. But the park was also home to peaceful protests, and a canvas of creativity for people like Greaves.


The filmmaker "conceived of the concept for the film by applying the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to a project he had come up with several years earlier," but this time around he attempted a new way to capture reality and experimental narrative on camera. At the core of this controlled chaos, there are actors and crew members—ostensibly there to shoot a film called Over The Cliff—being provoked "beyond their level of tolerance so that they in some fashion hijack his production." The idea becomes a bit more complex when spelled out...

"The concept of Symbiotaxiplasm originated from Arthur F. Bentley in his book Inquiry Into Inquiries: Essays in Social Theory, which Greaves described as '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.'"

There were two cameras, each with a different job—one "capturing the actors work (or their 'screen test,' as Greaves sometimes calls it), which revolves around a scripted conflict," and one shooting the actors and Greaves (for more on the process, head here). But as with many things in the '60s, its best to just turn on, tune in, drop out:

After seeing the film at Sundance in 1993, Steve Buscemi worked to secure financing for a sequel. Together with Greaves and Steven Soderbergh, they managed to secure a wide release of the original film in theatres, and a DVD release alongside its new sequel: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1⁄2, which focuses on two of the actors in the original.