May 7, 2016

Coming Apart (1969) and Autumn Sonata (1978)

I watched the cult classic, Coming Apart (1969), last night. The experimental format was promising but I don’t think the director, Milton Moses Ginsberg, pulled it off in the end. There was no psychological depth to the process of “coming apart”. Wikipedia says it’s a “schizophrenic breakdown,” but I don’t see how schizophrenia manifests in any of the characters.

It just so happens that I also watched Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978) on the same day. (Watched it twice, the second time with the commentary by some British film critic.) Almost the entire film was shot in a single house, so its claustrophobic feeling is similar to that of “Coming Apart.”

Bergman’s format was not as experimental as Coming Apart, but it has the psychological depth that the latter lacks. How the relationship between the mother played by Ingrid Bergman and the daughter played by Liv Ullmann comes apart is painfully realistic and convincing. I think a director like Bergman could make a good use of the experimental format of Coming Apart. Without the depth, the experiment comes across as being self-indulgent or gimmicky. I think artists who are “experimental” tend to have this problem.

In art, I think most of us tend to crave a certain balance. Even in commercial products, this may be true; like a mobile phone that is highly functional but ugly, or beautiful but unusable. Writing that is informative but boring, or entertaining but empty. The term “experimental” often connotes a certain sense of incompleteness. Experimental artists and engineers, in a way, experiment with certain aspects or parts without being concerned about how they can be used to create a whole, like a guitarist who can come up with great sounding riffs, but can’t compose a song.