Made in 1969, the same year The Rolling Stones' Altamont concert illustrated the dark undercurrent beneath the utopian dreams of the '60s, Coming Apart is a moody drama about a married psychoanalyst (Rip Torn) who rents out an apartment for his various indiscretions. There, Torn installs a secret camera to record moments from his life, and the film is presented as footage taken from that camera. At first, the camera is used for conventional, voyeuristic purposes, but as his mental health and composure decline, the camera (and by extension, the film) betrays Torn's overtly masochistic desire for self-incrimination. Coming Apart's secret-camera gimmick proves tremendously limiting, but it's also an audacious stylistic choice that lends the film a harrowing, claustrophobic intensity that can be almost unbearable. Written and directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg (whose only other film as a director is the less-than-revered Werewolf Of Washington), Coming Apart derives much of its dramatic and narrative tension from the power imbalances that epitomize Torn's relationships. Many of his lovers (whose ranks include Sally Kirkland) share a mile-wide masochistic streak, and while Torn starts out in control, his authority gradually dissipates as he lurches toward madness. Very much a product of its time—and essentially unseen since its brief original New York run—Coming Apart has a lot to recommend it. Torn gives a bravura lead performance, the use of original music is effective and creepy, and the sex scenes are painfully, uncomfortably intimate, far closer to real life than the bloodless abstractions offered by most Hollywood films. At the same time, Ginsberg relies too heavily on the claustrophobic power of his central gimmick, as well as Torn's formidable presence, to compensate for the shakiness of his uneven and sometimes embarassing dialogue. Coming Apart is harrowing and disconcertingly original, if self-indulgent and formless. A noble, if not entirely successful, experiment that promises more than it can deliver, it's a fascinating, frustrating time capsule that too often lapses into tedium.
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