Saturday, March 01, 2014
Written, directed, shot, co-edited, co-scored, and starring Steven Soderbergh, Schizopolis is an experimental comedy that explores a man who is asked to write speeches for a New Age guru who also deals with another man who is plotting against him. In the two roles of the corporate drone Fletcher Munson and a swinging dentist in Dr. Jeffrey Korchek, Soderbergh creates a film that defies convention as it explores the world of cults, identities, and all sorts of things. Also starring Betsy Brantley, David Jensen, Eddie Jemison, and Mike Malone. Schizopolis is a bizarre yet fascinating film from Steven Soderbergh.
The film is one that defies description as much of it is told in a strange, non-linear narrative style as it revolves around a corporate office drone who becomes a speechwriter for a New Age guru while he would also encounter his doppelganger in a conservative yet swinging dentist with a love for Muzak as both of them are unaware that they’re sharing the same woman. All of which is told in a very abstract form of narrative that features many subplots revolving around an exterminator having affairs with bored housewives along with offbeat news reports and such. It all plays to Steven Soderbergh’s idea of a world that is just absolutely insane where it has no conventional opening and ending. In fact, none of that exists as Soderbergh opens and closes the film with him talking to an unseen audience in an empty theater about what to expect and such.
There isn’t a conventional screenplay though it does have a three act structure as the first act is about Fletcher Munson and the second act is about Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. Then comes this very unconventional third act told from the perspective of Munson’s wife (Betsy Brantley) who would also have her own doppelganger in a woman that Dr. Korchek meets. It plays to a world that doesn’t make sense along with dialogue that is very stylized where it also doesn’t make sense as it involves a co-worker of Munson (Eddie Jemison) who claims that people have targeted him as a mole. The stuff involving this exterminator name Elmo (David Jensen) is also very odd as he refers to himself in a third person as his antics become even stranger where the people following him have no clue to what he’s up to.
Soderbergh’s direction is definitely off the wall in the way he introduces each act as well as how he starts and ends the film where he would play himself in introducing the film and doing questions afterwards. Then it goes into the actual film where it doesn’t open in a traditional way nor does it closes as among its early images involves a guy wearing a t-shirt running around with no pants nor underwear as he’s being chased by orderlies. Soderbergh aims for a myriad of styles as well as shooting scenes in multiple versions as if it plays to a world that is odd such as a funeral scene where the priest blasts the guy who dies in one version while lamenting over that man in a different version. There’s also moments where things become weirder where the third act has the characters that Soderbergh plays being dubbed in Japanese, French, and Italian.
Acting as the film’s cinematographer and co-editor with Sarah Flack, Soderbergh also goes for different array of visual looks with some super 8 film stock to play into some of the fantasies that his characters go into while much of it is lush and exotic. The editing also goes into an array of style from jump-cuts, speedy cuts, and all sorts of things while Soderbergh maintains an air of intrigue into his compositions whether it’s in shaky hand-held cameras or something calm and steady to play into the world that these characters are in. All of which is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where it acts as a place that is ordinary but also has that sense of the absurd where it feels like a world that is also out of the ordinary as Soderbergh would do things to subvert the idea that it’s a film or something entirely different. Overall, Soderbergh creates a truly exhilarating yet offbeat film that’s about something and nothing.
Sound editor Mark Mangini and re-recording mixer Larry Blake do amazing work with the sound where they create some unique sound effects and mixes to play into a world that is off-kilter and far removed from what is reality. The film’s music by Soderbergh, Cliff Martinez, Joseph Wilkins, Harry Garfield, and Mark Mangini is brilliant for its odd mix of heavy metal, Muzak, kitsch jazz, electronic music, and all sorts of things to play into that oddball tone of the film.
The casting by David Jensen is incredible as Jensen himself would do a hilarious job playing the wild exterminator Elmo who sleeps around with women and do all sorts of crazy things. Other notable small performances include Katherine LaNasa as an attractive woman Elmo sleeps with, Eddie Jemison as a paranoid co-worker of Munson, Scott Allen as Munson’s boss, Trip Hamilton as Dr. Korchek’s junkie brother, Mary Soderbergh as a documents delivery woman, Ann Hamilton as the wife of the New Age guru T. Azimuth Schwitters, and Mike Malone as the engaging guru Schwitters. Betsy Brantley is wonderful as Mrs. Munson and the second attractive woman that Dr. Korchek falls for as she adds two very different layers that makes the two women very unique with Mrs. Munson being the most interesting. Finally, there’s Steven Soderbergh in a tremendous performance as the bored and weird Jeffrey Munson and the very odd Dr. Korchek as it’s a performance that showcases Soderbergh being funny as well as being very confrontational in his performance.
Schizopolis is a phenomenal film from Steven Soderbergh that defies the idea of what cinema is as well as play into the idea about the way the world is in all of its chaos. Especially as it plays into themes of identity, cults, and the need to communicate where it’s told in such an abstract manner. While it’s definitely not an easy film to watch for its lack of conventional structure, it is still rewarding for the way it refuses to play by the rules. In the end, Schizopolis is a remarkable film from Steven Soderbergh.
Steven Soderbergh Films: sex, lies, & videotape - Kafka - King of the Hill - The Underneath - Gray's Anatomy - Out of Sight - The Limey - Erin Brockovich - Traffic - Ocean's Eleven (2001 film) - Full Frontal - Solaris (2002 film) - Eros-The Equilibrium - Ocean's Twelve - Bubble - The Good German - Ocean’s Thirteen - Che - The Girlfriend Experience - The Informant! - And Everything is Going Fine - Contagion - Haywire - Magic Mike - Side Effects - Behind the Candelabra
The Auteurs #39: Steven Soderbergh: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
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