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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Steven Soderbergh
Cast:
Steven Soderbergh, Betsy Brantley, David Jensen, Mike Malone, Eddie Jemison, Scott Allen, Katherine La Nasa
Writing Credits:
Steven Soderbergh

Tagline:
Inspired by rumors, bald-faced lies, and half-remembered dreams!

Synopsis:
Fletcher Munson has a doppelganger in dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. In his only starring performance to date, acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh inhabits both roles: that of Munson, onanistic corporate drone and speechwriterifor New Age guru T. Azimuth Schwitters, and the swinging Korchek, Muzak enthusiast and lover of Munson's disenchanted wife. Meanwhile, mad exterminator and part-time celebrity prima donna Elmo Oxygen plots against Schwitters while using his trademark babble to seduce local housewives. Placing the onus squarely on the viewer ("If you don't understand this film, it's your fault not ours"), writer-director-cameraman-star Soderbergh presents a deranged comedy of confused identity, doublespeak, and white-knuckle corporate intrigue, confirming his status as one of America's most daring and unpredictable filmmakers.

Box Office:
Budget
$250 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 10/28/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh
• Audio Commentary with Producer John Hardy, Actor/Casting Director David Jensen, Actor Mike Malone, and Production Sound Mixer Paul Ledford
• “Maximum Busy Muscle”
• Trailer
• Booklet


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RELATED REVIEWS


Schizopolis: Criterion Collection (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 25, 2003)

When a then-26-year-old Steven Soderbergh released his debut flick in 1989, sex, lies and videotape... earned him plaudits as a fresh new talent to watch. However, between lies and his commercial breakthrough with 2000’s hit Erin Brockovich, Soderbergh pretty much resided in the “whatever happened to...?” file. Sure, 1998’s Out of Sight earned some nice critical notices and maintains a modest audience, but most folks paid little attention to it.

However, Sight looks like Titanic when compared to some of Soderbergh’s other releases between 1989 and 2000. The director really fell off the radar during that period, and as we learn during some of the DVD’s extras, he started to become disenchanted with movie making.

Apparently, one factor that helped rekindle his passion for the format came from 1997’s no-budget oddity Schizopolis. Soderbergh had a bad experience with the creation of 1995’s The Underneath, but with total creative control on Schizopolis, he remembered why he liked making movies so much.

Man, I won’t even bother to try to write my own synopsis for this flick. Here’s how the back of the DVD case sums up the movie: “Fletcher Munson has a doppelganger in dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. In his only acting role to date, acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh inhabits both roles: that of Munson, onanistic corporate drone and speechwriter for New Age guru T. Azimuth Schwitters (Mike Malone), and of the swinging Korchek, Muzak enthusiast and lover of Munson’s disenchanted wife (Betsy Brantley). Meanwhile, mad exterminator and part-time celebrity prima donna Elmo Oxygen (David Jensen) plots against Schwitters using his trademark babble to seduce local housewives.”

In truth, Schizopolis isn’t nearly that cut and dried. You know you’re in for something different when we find a bizarre message from Soderbergh at the film’s start. Added after some test screenings, this piece blames the viewer if they don’t understand the movie, and Sodernergh tells them to attend repeatedly. It’s a little precious, but it’s a clever way to set the tone of this weird movie.

Does Schizopolis really require multiple screenings to make sense? Well, I suppose that depends on one’s definition of “multiple”, but I’m sure a second viewing would help. As it stands, expect to feel almost totally befuddled during the movie’s first third. You’ll probably be pretty confused throughout the second act as well. Does it get better in the last half hour? Yeah, to a degree, but nothing ever turns clear.

Still, Soderbergh deserves credit for the way the movie progresses, as it really does tie together by the end – sort of. I’ve not watched the movie twice, and I don’t know how much more sense it’ll make on second viewing. Actually, that’s not true. I’m sure the story will be much easier to understand with extra screenings. It takes the viewer so long to feel even vaguely grounded the first time through that a subsequent examination would definitely become beneficial.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever feel that I can adequately comprehend or explain what in the world it all means. Heck, that assumes it does mean something. An odd mishmash of characters, events, and filmmaking styles, maybe it’s all just meant to be one big blob of weirdness without anything inherently significant in it.

I don’t think so. I’m sure Soderbergh meant to do something with the tale, though whether or not he succeeds is a totally different matter. Schizopolis feels like a very polarizing movie that most viewers will either embrace or loathe.

Personally, I fell somewhere in the middle. I’m not a fan of cinematic oddness just for the sake of being different, and Schiopolis occasionally feels awkward and disjointed in a self-conscious way. It also comes across as rather precious at times.

Still, it keeps you interested and requires you to pay attention. Despite the flick’s apparent looseness, Soderbergh clearly has a plan at work, and it does eventually tie together in a way. One of the movie’s most successful elements stems from its seemingly disjointed nature. In retrospect, one can see that Soderbergh maintained a plan from start to finish, but he makes the result appear like the ravings of a madman.

A highly experimental film with a Terry Gilliam influence, Schizopolis would deserve praise if just because it helped right the course of Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic ship; he’s created some fine flicks since this one, and had it not cleansed his palate, that might not have occurred. As it stands, Schizopolis seems consistently intriguing, often aggravating, and just plain odd. It won’t appeal to many, but those who like it should love it.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C-/ Bonus B

Scbizopolis appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Schizopolis generally looked decent, but it presented more concerns than I’d expect for such a recent movie.

Sharpness mostly seemed fine. The film usually presented a nicely distinct and detailed picture. Some shots looked a little ill defined, but those didn’t occur too frequently. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement popped up at times. Print flaws were a bigger concern. Various examples of specks, grit and marks appeared occasionally during the movie. They weren’t dominant, but they became more obvious than I’d like.

Colors usually appeared good, though some variety occurred there as well. The tones sometimes seemed a little dense, particularly during interior shots. The hues were never terribly thick, though, and they usually seemed fairly accurate. Blacks appeared dark and firm, and shadows were reasonably clear and opaque. I granted Schizopolis a little leeway due to its low budget status, and with that considered, it earned a “B-“.

Though generally clear, the monaural soundtrack of Schizopolis lost points due to that single-channel nature. I find it difficult to award a movie from 1996 a grade above average, and this flick betrayed some minor flaws that lowered my grade a bit more. Speech mostly seemed fairly distinct, but some edginess occasionally interfered. Intelligibility remained fine, however. Effects sounded fairly clean and tight, and they showed acceptable range and depth. The music varied dependent on the source; sometimes those elements were quite brisk and lively, but on other occasions, they became somewhat muddy. Nonetheless, the music offered the strongest parts of the track. For the most part, the audio of Schizopolis seemed perfectly serviceable.

Only a few extras show up on Schizopolis, highlighted by a pair of audio commentaries. An unusual track for an unusual film, the first presents director Steven Soderbergh as he interviews himself. This makes for an irreverent little chat, as Soderbergh the interview subject provides a bloated and egotistical view of himself. The commentary comes packed with self-aggrandizing comments that occasionally seem amusing. It’s a sporadically entertaining track, but the joke gets old pretty quickly. A few actual tidbits about the movie appear along the way, but even when Soderbergh seems to address Schizopolis, it’s tough to take him seriously; he offers so many absurd statements that it’s difficult to tell the truth from fiction. The commentary provides some light entertainment but it doesn’t substitute for a more informative and traditional track.

The second commentary comes from producer John Hardy, actor/casting director David Jensen, actor Mike Malone, and production sound mixer Paul Ledford. All four men sit together for their running, screen-specific track. A nicely lively and engaging piece, this commentary helps compensate for the lack of information from Soderbergh’s chat. We get identification of the many actors in the film plus quick biographical notes about them when appropriate, details of the loose production, its schedule and budget, the story and nature of the flick, and a number of other topics. The participants have known and worked with Soderbergh for years, so they give us a nice portrait of the director as a young man as well as an adult. It’s not a stellar commentary, but it seems consistently satisfying.

Next we get something called Maximum Busy Muscle! This eight-minute and 22-second sequence never explains itself, but it seems to consist mostly of unused footage shot for the film. For the most part, I wouldn’t call them “deleted scenes”, as only one – the first meeting between Munson and his wife – really meets the criteria for that. Otherwise, we get random snippets plus a smidgen of behind the scenes footage. It’s moderately interesting but nothing special. Even the actual deleted scene is just more of the same compared to material from the final flick.

In addition to the film’s Theatrical Trailer, we find a booklet with some text. This includes a short but good essay by critic Dennis Lim along with some credits and photos from the movie.

Movies don’t get much odder than Schizopolis, and that factor creates both the film’s highs and its lows. Sometimes the film comes across as too self-consciously weird for its own good, but the flick enjoys some interestingly warped little moments and seems surprisingly well-crafted for such an apparently loose affair. The DVD presents acceptable but fairly average audio and picture; the blandness of both should not come as a surprise given the movie’s miniscule budget. The package includes a pair of audio commentaries, but only one works. I have to recommend a movie as compellingly strange as Schizopolis, but I’d definitely advise a rental first; if you like it, grab a copy, but this is way too unusual an experience for me to push a purchase sight unseen.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5454 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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