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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/15/03

1996 (2003) - Wellspring (The Criterion Collection)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Schizopolis (Criterion) Program Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B+

Specs and Features
96 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at ??), keep case packaging, color bars, audio commentary (with writer/director/star Steven Soderbergh), audio commentary (with producer John Hardy, actor/casting director David Jensen, actor Mike Malone and production sound mixer Paul Ledford), theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (49 chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: English

"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. Turn. 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. Turn. 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. Turn. 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!"

I've been a Soderbergh fan since I first saw Kafka. Sex, Lies wasn't really my speed and I never (even today) had much use for it as a film. But when I saw Kafka in theaters upon release, I thought that the filmmaker behind that movie was going to be huge someday and I watched him with great interest. It took Soderbergh a while to get to the position he's in now. He had a lot of stops, starts and misfires, but today Soderbergh can do no wrong, and God bless him for it.

Schizopolis is a rare film, that if taken on face value, is just an awful experimental film which can be too punkish and arty for its own good. But if taken as a statement (as most Soderbergh films should be taken) it is saying an awful lot - entertainingly and surprisingly. It's entertaining, because behind the double talk, goofy symbolism and fragmented storytelling, there is a connection between storyteller and audience that Soderbergh is able to keep from the very first moment, all the way through until the end. You may not understand the film, but you'll still like it and it feels odd to like something you don't understand.

It's surprising because Soderbergh gives us plenty of time to get fed up and walk from the experience. The story plays out a number of times, with gaps being left with the first of three "parts" only to be filled in in later "parts". For example, if someone says: "I wrecked my cucumber on Highway Axis" in the first part of the film, that person might say, "Gazebo car yoyo 24" within a sequence almost identical to the first scene later on within the film. It's incredibly odd, but given the tone of the film, it makes sense because at various points within the film we're seeing things through another person's perspective. Being a rant on modern living, Soderbergh is saying that things mean different things to different people. What you say to me may not make sense. Hell, I may not even be one iota interested in what I have to say... so what I say may not even make sense to myself. That's Schizopolis is a nut shell.

It's probably important to know that Schizopolis was made at a time when Soderbergh was becoming quite unhappy with the studio way of filmmaking. Schizopolis is the film that "saved" him, re-taught him how to make film and turned him back into the filmmaker he wanted to be at the beginning.

The film follows an everyday office guy (played by Soderbergh). He's got issues with his home life, his neighbor, his boss and himself. He's a compulsive masturbator. He's lazy. And he's generally not a very nice guy, even though he tries to be. His wife is having an affair with her dentist, who just happens to be her husband's doppelganger (played by Soderbergh in glasses). But the dentist is in love with his mistress' doppelganger. After writing a rambling sexually explicit love letter, he gets hit with a sexual harassment suit and things just go bad from there. The three parts that make up the film are: the office worker's perspective, the dentist's perspective and the disenchanted wife's perspective. All stories contain the same basic scene structures, but the dialogue and formats have changed. Be very watchful of the things that are way weird and listen for replacements throughout the preceding sequences. But don't let Elmo Oxygen throw you off. His story, although key to the film, isn't really part of the "perspectives" of the other three characters, even though most everything he does effects them in some way shape or form.

So observe, enjoy and then let the coolness flow through your vertebrae. Schizopolis isn't a throw away film made by a brilliant filmmaker out of boredom, as some have cited in the past. It's an attempt to recapture the love of film he had before he was almost sucked into the studio system. He's never lost his way since and that's why film fans like us love him so much.

Schizopolis is presented as part of the Criterion DVD label, and it deserves to be. Licensed from Wellspring, this is, in my opinion, the only good looking DVD to come from that label. Done up in anamorphic widescreen at 1.85:1, the transfer is beautiful. There are a few moments here and there during the film when you might wince, but these are most likely from the source material and have nothing to do with the DVD presentation. Colors are ripe, grain is minimal and there's no edging anywhere in the transfer. The sound is presented in its original mono, with a nice new Dolby Digital clean-up. It does the job without any artifacts to be found.

Not exactly a huge special edition, Schizopolis has enough to keep the curious interested. First up are the commentaries. We get Soderbergh interviewing himself... and it gets old fast, sorry to say. It's funny and all, but not very informative. The better commentary is a nice collection of cast and crew (which were the same job on this film) discussing the movie, Soderbergh as friend and boss, and his and their history on the subsequent films they've all worked on. Tom Hardy has produced pretty much every film Soderbergh's worked on. In this film, he plays a mysterious phone voice as well as one of the many television personalities scattered throughout the film. David Jensen, who worked as both a casting director for the film as well as the key character Elmo Oxygen, has worked a variety of crew positions with Soderbergh over the years. Actor Mike Malone plays cult figure/New Age guru T. Azimuth Schwitters, and has worked as an actor and set dresser for Soderbergh (and others) for years. The commentary is rounded out by production sound mixer Paul Ledford, who has held that job with Soderbergh on every film since Sex, Lies and Videotape. Also included is a nice collection of deleted scenes, entitled "Maximum Busy Muscle." The best of the lot is a flashback sequence with Soderbergh in an afro wig picking up his wife to be. You'll find the film's theatrical trailer on this disc as well.

Schizopolis is a great film to catch if you've never seen it and if you happen to be a fan of Soderbergh. It's got a legion of fans out there, so this is a welcome DVD to see released. But will the mainstream folks out there pick it up? I hope so. It's a very cute, albeit strange, film. Suck it up and check it out a few times. You'll be glad you did.

Todd Doogan
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