Sunday, October 12, 2008

Schizopolis - #199

I have watched quite a few more Criterions than have been blogged about here. I'm going to have to discipline myself a bit - I'm hopelessly behind but will try to catch up as best I can. And thanks Tait for the comments which I admit have been influential in getting me back here. I feel a tinge of responsibility from know that people do actually come here wondering if I've posted anything new.

Well here's something new and it's a film that suitably evokes the kind of self-conscious meta attitude of that opening paragraph. Most readers here (assuming you're a fan of movies and know a bit about "name" directors) are familiar with Stephen Soderbergh's work, if not his name. He was first known for Sex, Lies and Videotape (which I haven't yet seen) and later achieved great commercial success with films like Out of Sight, Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Oceans 11 12 13 series. But this project Schizopolis probably eludes most movie-watchers unless they are either Criterion fans or otherwise drawn to oddball latterday surrealism and postmodern cult flicks.

I blog about Schizopolis because I happened to watch it tonight, for the third time accdg to my recollection. My friend Mark called me this afternoon and told me he had a few free hours and asked me to bring over a movie, something "off the wall" that we could watch while his wife and son were away. I had just the perfect movie for such an occasion!

Contrary to what some might say, Schizopolis does have a plot, but it's thin and of secondary importance to the viewer's experience. I summarize thus: Fletcher Munson (played by Soderbergh himself in the only acting role I'm aware he's ever done - most likely because he couldn't find anyone affordable who would agree to humiliate himself so thoroughly) is an employee with vague responsibilities working in the headquarters of "Eventualism," a media-based cult pretty analogical to Scientology. The movement's founder, T. Azimuth Schwitters, is in need of a speech writer since his main guy died abruptly without leaving adequate notes behind telling the leader what to say. Munson gets thrust into the role which leads to extra stress in his life and ensuing marital difficulties. Both Munson and his wife prove to have doppelgangers in the Schizopolis universe which leads to some confusion (for first time viewers at least) as to who is hooking up with who as the two men and two women pair up intermittently. Meanwhile, Munson continues to work on the speech in preparation for a "big event" scheduled for Feb. 11. And there's a secondary plotline involving Elmo Oxygen, an insect exterminator who has a pretty decent gig going killing bugs and getting cozy with various bored housewives (with whom he speaks in an amusing and learnable code language) as he makes his daily rounds, only to move on to bigger and (debatably) better things when he listens to offers from the competition. And also the drug-addicted brother drawing unwanted attention from menacing hitman subplot...

There's little of value to be gleaned from any of that. You just have to see Schizopolis for yourself (if you dare) to fully comprehend the value and meaning of this cinematic milestone. Expect to be baffled and quite possibly offended. Soderbergh's performance was described somewhere (I think an user review) as a catalog of "things one doesn't do" - at least not on camera! Anyone who has worked for a big corporation, has dealt with an insufferable middle-mgmt boss, endured a cubicle workspace, been married for more than five years, or made a serious effort to grapply with the non-linear randomness of life will find some truth in this film, even if the realization induces a few squirms in the process. I offer a strong recommendation to anyone who wants to take a foray to the edge of what cinema can achieve when freed up from the constraints of plot development and appeal to the middle-class.

And if that doesn't convince you, I'll let the filmmaker himself deliver his pitch directly to you. Schizopolis is important: