Monday, January 7, 2013


Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis is the product of a drunken orgy between Jacques Tati, the really oddball Second City sketches, Luis Bunuel & Mike Judge. This experimental, non-linear, borderline sketch comedy feature about the banalities of office work, married life, parenthood, television, infidelity, the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle & communication between human beings (not to mention an obvious jab at Scientology, organized religion & self-help gurus) is pretty damn brilliant. Almost anyone, cinephile or not, can relate to the goings on in Schizopolis. The problem is that the large majority of the film will probably go over most people's heads. And I don't mean that in a snobbish way. It'll go over most people's heads because the movie is odd, extra quirky & difficult to follow at times. Not in a Charlie Kaufman/forced convolutedness kinda way. Its just tough to follow because its so random, told out of order and scenes just kinda abruptly start & end. Schizopolis is for anyone who feels trapped in suburbia, finds the pointlessness in small talk & unnecessary dialogue or takes bathroom breaks just to get away from the boredom of their office cubicle to go make stupid faces in the mirror. Schizopolis was the film that made Soderbergh "relevant" again among the people who put him up on a pedestal in the late 80's then unfairly took him off of that very same pedestal when he didn’t make the kinda films they wanted him to make. Sex, Lies & Videotape came outta nowhere and turned out to be one of the most important films of the late 80's and ushered in the American independent film renaissance of the 90's. People had unfairly put Soderbergh in a box and didn’t take too kindly to his follow-up features (Kafka, King Of The Hill & Underneath). It’s clear he had plans to make all different kinds of films (thriller, melodrama, neo-noir, etc) but the Sundance crowd and film critics who loved him seemed to only want stuff like Sex, Lies & Videotape. By the mid-90's Soderbergh must've been exhausted churning out steady (and mostly solid) work only to be met with lukewarm or mixed reviews. Instead of giving up and giving in to what people wanted, he directed himself in an experimental feature which ended up reviving his career (after Schizopolis followed two of his best works - The Limey & Out Of Sight). It’s funny how Soderbergh gets so much praise for being such a multi-faceted filmmaker today but when he tried to do that in the early/mid-90's everyone seemed to turn their back on him. Schizopolis predates & influenced recent surreal, random comedies like; Attenberg, Getting Any, The Comedy & Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and falls in line with other comedies like Kids In The Hall Brain Candy, Phantom Of Liberty & The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie. It may be completely different from Sex, Lies & Videotape but the way Soderbergh went about making both films is very similar - small cast & crew, low budget, shot in his hometown of Atlanta with Soderbergh wearing multiple hats (with Schizopolis he wrote, directed, starred & shot the film). Much like how I feel about Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderberh coulda been quite the character actor if he wanted. For someone who's never acted before and gives off somewhat of a boring vibe in real life, he did an amazing job playing multiple characters (a bored employee at a nameless corporation who makes frequent trips to the bathroom to masturbate and a conservative dentist that sexually harasses one of his patients). Soderbergh's blank expressions and dry monotone delivery makes me want to see him in a Jim Jarmusch-style comedy.

This is yet another film that best describes my sense of humor - randomness, swearing at odd moments, inappropriate sexual humor and poking fun at serious issues that can really only be found in America (pointless television, obesity & diabetes, consumerism, etc) The opening monologue (delivered by Soderbergh) really sets the tone of the film...

Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, this may seem an unusual procedure speaking to you before the picture begins but we have an unusual subject. When I say that this is the most important motion picture you will ever attend my motivation is not financial gain, but a firm belief that the delicate fabric that holds all of us together will be ripped apart unless every man, woman and child in this country sees this film and pays full ticket price…not some bargain matinee cut-rate deal. In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything. In closing, I want to assure you that no expense was incurred bringing this motion picture to your theater. And now, filmed in its entirety and proven to heal minor cuts and abrasions, we proudly present Schizopolis!

Schizopolis is kinda like Monty Python for Americans who don’t always get that type of Monty Python humor (like me at times to be quite honest). The story is told in three different parts from the perspective of three different characters. The first story centers around "Fletcher Munson" (Soderbergh) - a speech writer for a scientology-like corporation under the reign of T Azimuth Schwitters (a character modeled after L. Ron Hubbard). Early on in the film Fletcher gets an unwanted promotion when one of the hire-ups dies. He hates his new found position & responsibility (his taskmaster boss is always shouting at him), hates family life, isn’t interested in sex with his wife (who's cheating on him by the way) and he's being pursued by a rival company for information to take down T. Azimuth Schwitters. Of all the characters in the film Fletcher Munson is by far my favorite. He represents that adult who's still afraid of responsibility at work and just feels trapped in life. The dialogue between Fletcher & his wife (played by Soderbergh's real life former ex-wife) plays on that exploration of banality and generic small talk that I mentioned earlier:

Fletcher: Generic greeting
Mrs. Fletcher: Generic greeting returned

Soderbergh also plays on the pointless small talk between neighbors in a scene where the lines are delivered as if Fletcher and his neighbor are having a casual conversation about golf or lawn mowing techniques...

Fletcher: Hello. 
Neighbor: Hello. 
Fletcher: Is your wife coming over tonight? Because her big ass always leaves me satisfied. 
Neighbor: Nice of you to mention her. She enjoys sex with you much more than she does with me. 
Fletcher: I'm sure she says that to all the men in the neighborhood. 
Neighbor: You may be right about that one.

The second act follows a conservative republican dentist "Dr. Jeffery Korchek" (also played by Soderbergh). He's Fletcher Munson's doppelganger (although the two don’t know each other). Dr. Korchek also happens to be the mystery man that Munson's wife is cheating with. I rather liked this angle about the wife cheating on her husband with someone who looks exactly like him which shows the pointlessness of infidelity & cheating. There's a famous line in the film when Korchek discovers who Fletcher Munson is and says "Oh no...I'm having an affair with my wife." Other interesting points about Dr. Korchek’s life are the fact that he almost always wears jogging gear yet he only jogs from his car to his front door. He supports his heroin addicted brother and is madly in love with one of his patients; "Attractive Woman #2" (also played by Soderbergh's ex-wife), who eventually sues him for sexual harassment.
The third act is told from the perspective of Fletcher's wife ("Mrs. Munson"). This story takes us from when they first meet through the deterioration of their marriage which leads to Mrs. Munson having an affair with Dr. Korchek. In between we see the life of a bored housewife and a lot of the same scenes from the first act are re-played out from her point of view. This time some of those scenes are acted slightly differently and certain moments are over dubbed in both Japanese & Spanish without any explanation. On a side note, I find it interesting that Soderbergh made a film about a failing marriage alongside his then real life wife then ended up splitting shortly after (much like Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman with Eyes Wide Shut). Other supporting characters who play important roles in the overall story include: "Elmo" - a sex crazed celebrity bug exterminator that sleeps with every woman in town and is hired by a nameless couple to carry out a mysterious job, "Nameless Numberhead Man" (played by Eddie Jemison from the Ocean's 11 movies) - Fletcher's co-worker & friend who doesn’t do any work and hates the fact that his wife is skinny and not overweight, "Attractive Women #1" (played by Katherine Lanasa aka the former Mrs. Dennis Hopper) - Nameless numberhead man's wife who sleeps around behind his back with Elmo. This is a great alternative to more depressing films like The Seventh Continent or Revolutionary Road. Schizopolis deals with a lot of the same issues as those works except with humor instead. Although it shares nothing in common with the filmmaking style of David Lynch (an easy filmmaker to mention when something is weird or surreal), Schizopolis plays with parallel universes involving doppelgangers much like Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive did. This is a brilliant comedy that I highly recommend to anyone who appreciates the other films & filmmakers that I’ve already mentioned in this write-up. Schizopolis was a bit ahead of its time as it took jabs at stuff like Scientology long before the media and films like The Master did. And the Elmo character could easily be viewed as that talentless overnight celebrity that we currently have way too of many of today that has us questioning their celebrity status - "what exactly does Nicole Richie & The cast of the Jersey shore do?" (usually found on reality TV which wasn't even that popular in the mid-90's yet besides the real world & road rules)


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