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Winter/Spring 2015

William Greaves

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A Documentary Revolutionary

by Malaika Langa, Finance Manager William Greaves Courtesy Louise Archambault Greaves

Acclaimed director, producer and editor William Greaves (1926–2014) reimagined and revolutionized documentary film by using the medium as a platform for social engagement. Greaves’s landmark film Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) is an avant-garde, cinema verité work that challenges notions of reality, narrative structure and temporality. Influenced by Arthur F. Bentley’s Inquiry Into Inquiries: Essays in Social Theory, Greaves used the interaction between audience members, actors and filmmakers in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One to show the interconnectedness of society and how individuals can be empowered to confront authority, through an allegory of the political and social movements of the 1960s.

Born in Harlem on October 8, 1926, Greaves grew up on 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. He first won critical acclaim as an actor with the American Negro Theater, where he performed with Ruby Dee in John Loves Mary (1947). Greaves studied at the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg. In the 1950s, Greaves honed his filmmaking skills at the National Film Board of Canada and held staff positions at United Nations Television and United States Information Agency. His films First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966), Still a Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class (1968), Ali, the Fighter (1971) and From These Roots (1974) changed prevailing negative images of African Americans while pioneering filmic and narrative

techniques that have set the standard for documentary films. Greaves won an Emmy as Executive Producer of Black Journal, the first television news magazine devoted to covering the black community. In 2003, Greaves created Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2 (2003). Executive produced by Stephen Soderbergh, the film reunites two of the actors from the original and delves deeper into the psychology of the two lead characters. As in the first film, Greaves reveals the process of the filmmaker and lays bare the subtle nuances and variations of character, story, light and sound that can influence audience perception. The follow-up adds another layer of realism and context to the themes first visited in his 1968 groundbreaking film.

Profile for The Studio Museum in Harlem

Studio magazine (Winter/Spring 2015)  

Studio is the Studio Museum in Harlem's magazine, published twice a year and distributed free of charge to museum members and visitors. In a...

Studio magazine (Winter/Spring 2015)  

Studio is the Studio Museum in Harlem's magazine, published twice a year and distributed free of charge to museum members and visitors. In a...