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Schizopolis: The Criterion Collection

Schizopolis's interconnected storylines concern Fletcher Munson (director Steven Soderbergh), a nondescript employee of a Scientology-like motivational organization called Eventualism. Struggling with a speech he's consigned to write for the group's leader, T. Azimuth Schwitters (Mike Malone), Munson takes time out to masturbate in the office bathroom, has vivid fantasies during mundane conversations with co-workers, and drifts through a non-communicative relationship with his wife (Betsy Brantley). At the film's halfway point, Munson discovers that he has a doppelganger in Dr. Jeffrey Korchek (Soderbergh again), a perennially track-suit wearing dentist. Apparently slipping into Korchek's life, Munson realizes that his wife is having an affair with the dentist (or more to the point, he realizes that he's now having an affair with his own wife, since he's now Korchek). The film then follows Korchek, who's being leaned on by his brother to help with some sort of drug-related debt, as he falls hard for a patient (also Brantley) to whom he writes a hilarious, offensively honest love letter — before finally jumping back to Munson and his all-important speech. Actors play multiple characters — or are they different aspects of the same character? — and often speak to each other in meaningless, rote phrases. Munsen's conversations with his wife consist entirely of descriptive expressions: "Generic greeting." "Generic greeting returned!" Schizopolis (1996) begins with a pronouncement by Soderbergh that the film to follow is "the most important motion picture you will ever attend" and warning that "in the event that you find certain sequence 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." Tongue-in-cheek, yes, but not necessarily untrue. Okay, it may not be the most important movie you'll ever see — but it is a film that richly rewards the viewer who comes back for multiple viewings. Criterion brings their usual class act to Schizopolis with a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). The quality of the picture varies widely due to Soderbergh's experiments in different film stocks and techniques throughout the movie — if it looks grainy or scratchy on this disc, it undoubtedly was meant to look that way by the director. The original monaural soundtrack gets a digital cleanup and it's more than good, with the dialogue-driven audio coming through crystal clear. Extras are slim: Two commentary tracks are offered — the first, with Soderbergh interviewing himself, quickly loses its charm. It's funny, but not something you want to listen to for the length of the film. Much better is the second track, featuring actor/casting director Jensen, actor Malone, producer John Hardy and sound mixer Paul Ledford. Between talking amongst themselves about the cast on-screen, expressing their own occasional confusion about what was going on in the story, and offering behind-the-scenes technical anecdotes, it's an excellent addendum to the film. There's also a montage of deleted scenes that is mildly interesting, the theatrical trailer, and a booklet which offers an essay by Dennis Lim of the Village Voice. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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