Sunday, October 25, 2009

Genius or just gross?

For all the fuss, the Tropic of Cancer (1970) has frontal nudity and what is now considered tame sex scenes. Just watching the movie, you would not know what an uproar Henry Miller's book created. It was banned in the U.S. in 1934. I think what made the book, and movie, objectionable is the sex talk: raw and exploitive, both obsessive and misogynistic. The language is racy even by today's standards.

As a cinephile, I saw both sex flicks Rip Torn did, the other being Coming Apart (1969). Coming Apart is far more graphic. I mean, nothing is left to the imagination. In the movie, Torn plays a salacious psychologist who lures his female patients to an apartment, seduces them and secretly videotapes these encounters. One might think his decent into madness is scary, but it's not nearly as nerve-wracking as his betrayals of vulnerable female patients.

The movie, which I believe was unrated at the time, was released and within a few months fell off the face of the Earth. It was re-released in 1999 to a choir singing bravo about the movie's cinematic "genius, brilliance" and its "challenging, visionary" accomplishments and other such stuff.

Well a pox on the revisionary history. I think the movie took a dive not because of sex or all the skin. And boy there is a lot of it in those 90-some minutes.

Let me digress and say I think Torn does a fine work in both his roles as the salacious and mooching Henry Miller, and as the tormented and equally salacious Dr. Glazier. Yes, yes, it's cinema verite and worthwhile. But it suffers from its director, Milton Moses Ginsburg. He had an idea, a good one, but didn't actually know how to quite pull it off. All that acting talent. The flick suffers from a need of being fleshing out (no pun intended).

It lacks cohesion. Oh let me just say it: It's a mess. The guy wasn't sure what he was doing and winged it, too much. Even film noir and verity need some set up and a story line strong enough to pull viewers through. One chance where Ginsburg had, he muffed it. He could have pull loose ends together through the monologue by the increasingly psychotic doctor. Instead, Ginsburg just cuts the sound. We see Torn saying his lines, and looking like a dying man but we are robbed of the chance to see what brought him to this point, and where he might end up from there. And the last section I would have cut. Utterly pointless. One would think Sally Kirkland (Anna) was smarter than that. Maybe they were getting bored and started to like getting naked. See snippets of scenes through these links: