Too Much, Too Soon

"For Stroheim, a film was merely the most efficient means of affirming his character and his relationships with others, particularly women," André Bazin once wrote. In this sense, the exhumed '60s artifact Coming Apart might be considered a Stroheim descendant.

Coming Apart—reopening Friday at the theater where it had its much hyped premiere 30 years ago—failed to establish its 33-year-old neophyte writer-director, Milton Moses Ginsberg, as the genius of the age. It did, however, lay claim to a degree of Stroheimian naturalism—although, in its 10-minute takes, fixed camera, blatant voyeurism, and explicit sexual content, Ginsberg's opus was more directly derived from the films of the Warhol Factory.

Renting an apartment in the Kips Bay tower where his ex-mistress lives, a Manhattan shrink (Rip Torn) uses a hidden camera to film his trysts. The movie opens with an appropriately Freudian icon—paranoid-looking Torn splayed out on his own couch—and proceeds through a series of highly theatrical erotic adventures. One woman reveals a chest scarred by cigarette burns and hysterically offers to "do anything." Another arrives with her baby carriage, strips, gyrates, then protests, "I never did anything like this before in front of my baby," when Torn—who plays most of his scenes in boxer shorts—tries to jump her. A pair of Eugene McCarthy canvassers pass through, as does the shrink's ex (Viveca Lindfors). The camera never moves (although Ginsberg cheats by shifting the setup), nor do Torn's features, frozen in a wide-eyed frown. The big effect is the huge mirror over the couch, reflecting the midtown skyline as well as the action that the camera records.

Details

'Von Stroheim'
At Film Forum
June 25 through July 8

Coming Apart
Written and directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg
A Kino International release
At Cinema Village
Opens June 25

Things pick up with the appearance of an unstable former patient (Sally Kirkland, herself an early Warhol performer), whom the shrink first seduces, then humiliates at the sub-Stroheim orgy that signals his downward spiral. After an hour and 45 minutes, a freaked-out Kirkland trashes the pad in sensuous slow motion. Her tantrum provides the means for Ginsberg to literalize his hero's crack-up (and demolish his own pretensions) in a beautiful final image.

Ginsberg's would-be structural skin flick is something more than a self-indulgent exercise and something less than a misunderstood masterpiece. While it would be humanly impossible to take Coming Apart as seriously as the movie takes itself, it would be foolish to deny the melancholy satisfaction that the spectacle of such smashed ambitions affords.

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