Shot in Central Park in the summer of 1968, William Greaves's groovy masterpiece, in its first theatrical run, is a dazzling "feature-length-we-don't-know," as the director, looking for a filming permit, explains to a cop on horseback. Collapsing the real/reel distinction in its amalgam of verite and experimental narrative, Symbiopsychotaxisplasm opens with several pairs of actors performing the roles of Alice and Freddy, both about to implode in marital meltdown. These Actors Studio–style histrionics halt abruptly, segueing to Greaves's actual crew in the park, on the verge of insurrection as their helmer equivocates, coaxes, soothes and confuses.
"The name of the picture right now is Over the Cliff," Greaves tells a group of teenage onlookers. What's most intoxicating about Symbio is its constant state of free fall: The screen splits into three different panels, the dialogue between Alice and Freddy (played mainly by Gilbert and Fellows) grows increasingly hysterical and the crew's rap sessions dissolve into metababble. All the while, Greaves's schizoid shifts from monomaniacal manipulator to overwhelmed jive-talker attract and repel. And just when the crazy-making seems to be concluding, a homeless alcoholic arrives to wax about the economics of "the penis of the dollar." Greaves's film inspired many others about the madness of the movie set, but perhaps the title of Fassbinder's gloss on the folly of directing shares the most with Symbio's sensibility: Beware of a Holy Whore.—Melissa Anderson