I have seen some pretty bold films about the nature of male-to-female relationships, but only a few of them ever reached the chilling heights of director Milton Moses Ginsberg’s 1969 Coming Apart, a sort of abstract and out there film that truly got under my skin.
The late, great Rip Torn (in a relentlessly brilliant performance) is Joe, a very cocky and obsessive psychiatrist who places a camera and secretly films neurotic and emotional women in his rented apartment. As he goes from woman to woman, nearly humiliating them in the process, his own sanity begins to crumble and he himself becomes undone by his own ego and sexual torment.
On the surface, it definitely looks and feels nearly like an exploitation/skin flick (term used during the ’60s and ’70s), but in Ginsberg’s hands and Torn’s crushing characterization of Joe, it is a realistically troubling portrait of our deepest, darkest impulses (erotic and otherwise).
As much as Joe is the center of the film, make no mistake, the female characters are not exactly dominated women. They do hold their own against Joe, and at various points of the film, call him on his bull. All of their performances are memorable, especially a young Sally Kirkland (Joann), who nearly steals the entire show with her extreme and extremely heartbreaking portrayal of a complex woman breaking down and becoming increasingly violent. The slow-motion ending where she goes crazy and trashes the apartment just may be one of the most harrowing moments ever captured on film.
The way the entire film plays out (it was shot entirely through a bedroom mirror in Joe’s one-room apartment) makes it look like the first ever found footage movie. It has a specific feel and mood that increases the claustrophobia of it all. It really is ahead of the curve, and obviously could not be made today. It may actually be too challenging for the many filmgoers of today. To say that this is a “real discovery” is definitely putting it mildly.
The special edition Blu-ray from Kino Classics has several special features like “From the Paris Premiere“, an interview with Ginsberg from 2004; Rip Torn memorial, filmed at the Actors Studio (excerpt from 2019); Coming Apart: 50th Anniversary Interview; KRON: Along the Avenue of Time, a 2020 experimental feature by Ginsberg; Milonga in a Lonely Station, a 2020 short film by Ginsberg; and trailer.