Friday, July 10, 2009

Jason watches COMING APART

The Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley has just started up a series of Eccentric Cinema: Overlooked Oddities and Ecstasies,1963–82. It started up Wednesday night with Milton Moses Ginsburg's COMING APART, starring Rip Torn.

Rip Torn (excellent in his first starring role) plays Joe Glazer, a psychiatrist with issues. He has set up a video camera inside behind a one-way mirror in a "kinetic art" piece, so he can voyeuristically film himself and the parade of people in his apartment. The movie is all stuff he filmed with this hidden camera, mostly from his coffee table (only a few times does he pick up the camera and change views to see out the window or to the side), complete with the pops and breaks of film. And what the film captures is a parade of perversion, degradation, humiliation, misogyny, and (maybe/barely) repressed homosexuality. Nobody comes off looking good in this movie (least of all Torn), and that can make it hard to enter its world--there's simply no one to sympathize with. And at times, it can make the parade range from tedious to unbearable (although there are moments, the party scene among them, where it reaches a height of lunacy that becomes psychological slapstick).

In the end, I found the framing the most interesting about it. Nearly always the camera is on the coffee table, facing the couch. Behind the couch is a full-wall mirror. So someone (usually Torn) will be sitting on the couch, in the foreground. The woman of the moment will usually be behind the camera, and all we see is her reflection in the mirror. This creates a disorienting, fractured space where the woman looks to be standing behind the couch, and Torn never turns around to face here. I'd have to watch again to make sure, but I don't think there was a connected eyeline in the entire movie (if there was, I'm convinced it was unintentional). It also means that in the cataclysmic ending scene (warning, spoilers) when an angry female ex-patient trashes the apartment and smashes the mirror, she literally smashes the entire (on-screen) world. Interestingly, Rip Torn is not even present for that scene, perhaps the only time the camera operates without him. And typing that, I just realized that means she found the camera, turned it on, and that's why she's trashing the place. I'm an idiot for not catching that sooner.

Okay, that's all I can say. I can't say I really "enjoyed" the film, but I can say it's hard to get it out of my head.

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