Weekend Recommendation: Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis
Okay, this weekend’s recommendation is an odd film. Probably not for everybody, but that’s okay. But then again, Schizopolis is one of those films that more people should know about.
Did I mention that this is an odd film?
In a competently written, well thought-out review, it would probably follow that the writer would write some sort of brief synopsis outlining the plot of the film. Well, the plot’s not the point of the film, and while Schizopolis does sort of have a plot, it also sort of has a point too. But really, neither of those have a lot of bearing on this film.
Schizopolis is an exceedingly funny, experimental film which stars Soderbergh himself, in a dual role. He did the film following King of the Hill and Underneath, neither of which gained him the attention that came with Sex, Lies and Videotape. Fortunately for Soderbergh, Out of Sight would be his next film leading a string of both Indie and mainstream successes.
What might sound like more of a curiosity piece, actually ends up being a fun experiment with the conventions of film, story and the process of filmmaking. The film repeatedly breaks the fourth wall. The film while supposedly a narrative feature, breaks into documentary elements, TV news interstitials and varying bits of fantasy. Crew members are visible everywhere.
The film is broken into three parts, each of which tie into one another, but do their best to play upon formula and at the same time spoofing filmic convention. In the first part of the film, we are introduced to Elmo Oxygen, a professional exterminator who, mid-film is approached by a pair of film producers who offer him a “vehicle” for his character. He has absolutely no bearing on the main story, ever. Additionally, he and the characters that he interacts with speak in a patter of English language substitution. If he were to complete this paragraph, he might declare: “Windshield apertif painted box grinder, freestone. Landmine?”
And he’d be right.
Schizopolis is most likely to find fans in Monty Python fans. It’s very much the same synthesis of silliness, spoof, intelligence and experimentation. Filmmakers and the serious film fans out there will also find a lot to like in the film. As it subverts convention. . . Constantly breaking laws of film and reality, we are keyed into why these rules are in place. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how language can be understood even when the language isn’t our own. Entire bits of dialogue in the third section appear in Japanese and Italian.
The biggest surprise in the movie is Soderbergh himself. He’ll be the first one to admit that he’s no actor, but he’s charming to watch even at his most deadpan. On the Criterion Edition, the supplemental material includes Soderbergh interviewing himself. Parodying the often stodgy and self-serious commentaries which run rampant on DVDs, the recorded commentary is at times just as funny as the movie itself. At one point, Soderbergh asks himself: “Is this possibly the silliest film ever made by an Academy Award winning director?” To which he responds, “Aside from Lawrence of Arabia, yes.”
While Schizopolis may not be a cure for cancer, it has been proven to heal minor cuts and abrasions. . . And it’s damn funny.
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