In the summer of 1968, William Greaves wrote, directed, and starred in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, a delirious Möbius strip of a film long relegated to the forgotten dustbin of history. Recently rediscovered and heralded as a classic of the American New Wave, Symbio is a cinematic hall of mirrors: a movie about a fake movie (also directed by William Greaves), which involves yet another fake movie (dir. Greaves) about said movie being made.
Greaves plays himself the same way that Larry David "plays himself" on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and like the contemporary TV show, Symbio is shot in a documentary style that lends the film an unearned varnish of reality. Greaves' "character" (Greaves) is directing an Edward Albee-ish film called Over the Cliff in Central Park, although he does little actual directing, except to tell the cast and crew to basically do as they please, so long as they film the process of their filmmaking. Greaves is maddening in his ineffectiveness, and soon the crew forms a mutiny/bitch session, which they also record on film, as part of the all-inclusive process.
Theseself-reflective tropes encircle the production of one scene in Over the Cliff, which two actors execute repeatedly. The hackneyed, enacted scene is oddly compelling, despite Symbio's theoretical neon sign that flashes above every frame, screaming, "These are just bad actors, dummy!"
It's a total closed loop of meta-splooge, but Symbio directly foreshadows contemporary films like Adaptation and shows like the UK's The Office. True, Symbio is a much film-nerdier version, but it contains layer upon layer of ideas to unpack, many of which are unexpectedly funny. Throw in a score by Miles Davis, and Symbio makes the surprise jump from "40-year-old experimental film" (complete with suicidal noose gesture) to "crazy thought-provoking film," complete with onscreen meta-splooge.