Filmed in New York City’s Central Park, the 1968 experimental documentary Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One involved three film crews who were each tasked with capturing different aspects of the film production process simultaneously. One crew filmed the actors conventionally while a second crew filmed the first crew, and a third crew filmed the reactions of innocent passersby who happened upon the entire spectacle. At the center of the action is the (purportedly) bumbling director, William Greaves, who appears on camera throughout the film struggling (perhaps ostensibly) to give his cast and crew adequate direction. The result of this complicated exercise in acting and documentary filmmaking is a series of technical failures caused by Greaves’s incompetent direction in addition to various equipment issues. This article considers the political dimensions of these technical failures that constitute the film’s aesthetics. It argues that these technical failures create space for surprising critiques of 1960s American racial and sexual politics. Through its close readings, the article highlights the film’s often overlooked themes of sexuality and offers a more capacious understanding of the revolutionary possibilities of failure in documentary cinema aesthetics.

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