Written and directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg
Starring Rip Torn, Sally Kirkland, Viveca Lindfors
110 minutes. (1969)
I'm not sure if Coming Apart was the weirdest movie
of 1969 (as a seven-year-old, my moviegoing that year was
somewhat limited), but its re-release makes it a serious contender
for the 1999 title. It's a hard movie to explain - and some
of it is hard to sit through - but it's valuable as a true
relic of its era, the epitome of a certain type of Warhol-influenced
Coming Apart takes place entirely in a single New
York apartment. It's shot in black-and-white with a mostly
static camera, in a mix of painfully long takes and sudden,
disorienting jump cuts, peppered with blackouts, whiteouts
and out-of-focus shots. The soundtrack mixes Jefferson Airplane
music with nails-on-a-blackboard feedback and dull buzzes,
although it also catches a lot of offhand, improvisation-style
The main character is played by Rip Torn, a kind of defrocked
psychiatrist who, in a search for "reality," has
placed the camera in the apartment but who doesn't reveal
its existence to his many female visitors. The effect is often
a kind of X-rated Candid Camera that brings out that concept's
Oh wow. Groovy.
At this point, some people will have heard enough to know
that they'd prefer root canal to watching Coming Apart.
Fair enough, but these dental patients would miss several
things: some deep and scary moments, as well as some thrilling
and funny ones.
They would also miss a young Sally Kirkland, raw and real
as a self-destructive, and then just plain destructive, ex-patient
and sometime lover of Torn's. Rueful, worldly-wise Viveca
Lindfors, as an ex-lover trying to escape Torn's orbit, is
also a treat. She brings an arch theatricality, as if she
had wandered in from a Bergman movie, that's extremely refreshing.
Torn is just plain remarkable, tracing an arc from bemused,
ironic seducer, a practical bourgeois trying too hard to be
a "swinger," through self-hatred and self-destruction.
The downside to Coming Apart is that many scenes push
the viewer away, with writer/director Milton Moses Ginsberg
keeping the context, and the point, to himself. The feeling
is akin to being the only non-drinker, non-doper at a party
where everyone else is stoned. They're all laughing hysterically,
if none too happily, but we don't get the joke.
Coming Apart mixes together, and turns inside out,
Hitchcock's two trapped-in-an-apartment opuses, Rope
and Rear Window. It shares the long-take, real-time
experimentalism of the former along with the Peeping Tom-ism
and violence of the latter. Hitchcock, however, buried these
subversive meanings in star power, entertainment values and
extra helpings of narrative. Coming Apart strips the
Hollywood away, shoving the attraction and repulsion of voyeurism
right in our faces. Your interest in this film will depend,
to a large degree, on your own personal comfort level with
meeting the voyeur who lurks in us all.
(This article originally appeared in Films in Review, www.filmsinreview.com)