Coming Apart

Review by Adam Blair

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 avant-garde experimentalism.

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 humor.

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 essential sadism.

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)

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