Milton Moses Ginsberg, Unconventional Filmmaker, Dies at 85

Milton Moses Ginsberg, who directed two ambitious but eccentric films before being forgotten, one about the breakdown of a psychiatrist and the other about a press assistant in a Nixon-like government turned into a murderous werewolf, died on Manhattan 23rd . He was 85.

The cause was cancer, said his wife Nina Ginsberg.

Mr. Ginsberg, a film editor determined to make his own films, wrote and directed Coming Apart (1969), a raw black and white film that uses a single, almost entirely static camera to capture the loveless encounters and psychological disintegration to document a psychiatrist, played by Rip Torn, who secretly records his encounters with a camera in a mirror box.

“Coming Apart” received mixed reviews at best. But the one that devastated Mr Ginsberg came from Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice, who wrote: “If everyone in the cast had refused to undress for action or inaction, Coming Apart would have collapsed commercially into a half-baked amateur film who was incapable “. sell enough tickets to fill a phone booth. “

Mr. Ginsberg blamed this criticism for the failure of the film.

“That was it,” he told the New York Times in 1998, adding, “I did everything I wanted to do. And nothing happened. “

“Coming Apart” was followed in 1973 by another low-budget film: “The Werewolf of Washington”, a bellicose political parody inspired by the classic horror film “The Wolf Man” (1941), which terrified Mr. Ginsberg as a boy. and by President Richard M. Nixon, who terrified him as a man.

In Mr. Ginsberg’s film, released more than a year after the Watergate scandal, Dean Stockwell plays an assistant press secretary who turns into a werewolf at inappropriate moments, such as bowling with the president, and characters based on Katharine Graham who Editor, murdered by The Washington Post, and Martha Mitchell, the outspoken wife of Attorney General John N. Mitchell.

“It’s not being advertised as a documentary,” wrote syndicated columnist Nicholas von Hoffman, “but when you think about what’s going on in this town, you couldn’t tell from the plot.”

In 1975, after Mr. Ginsberg was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he fell into a depression that only disappeared after meeting the painter Nina Posnansky in 1983. You and his brother Arthur survive.

After the commercial failure of his feature films, Mr. Ginsberg returned to film editing. He has worked on a variety of projects including the 1986 Oscar-winning documentaries, Down and Out in America, about the unemployed and homeless left in the economy, directed by actress Lee Grant, and The Personals ( 1998), about a group of older people in a theater group.

He was in limbo, he wrote in Film Comment in 1999, because he had shot “Coming Apart”, which he ironically called “murder of an audience”.

“So if you long to be forgotten, both for yourself and for your film, follow me!” He added.

Mr. Ginsberg has never made another film, but in recent years he has completed several short video essays including “Kron: Along the Avenue of Time” (2011), a phantasmagoric exploration of his life that led through a microscopic journey into intricate clockworks becomes.

Milton Moses Ginsberg was born in the Bronx on September 22, 1935. His father Elias was a tailor in the textile district and his mother Fannie (Weis) Ginsberg was a housewife.

After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, Mr. Ginsberg received a bachelor’s degree in literature from Columbia University. Italian films like Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (1960) inspired him to filmmaking, but in the 1960s he worked instead as a film editor for NBC News, had a production job with documentaries Albert and David Maysles and was an assistant on “Candid Camera”, the popular television series that used covert cameras to capture people in different situations, which he said influenced the secret inclusion of the psychiatrist’s guests in “Coming Apart.”

Mr. Ginsberg’s disappointment with the reaction to his facial features was somewhat mitigated when the Museum of Modern Art showed “Coming Apart” in 1998. he did not enter the theater until it was over, when he was talking to the audience. MoMA has shown it a few times since then.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Laurence Kardish, the former longtime chief curator of MoMA’s film division who saw “Coming Apart” during the original release, over the phone. “It was very explicit and very raw, and it seemed like an essential New York film to me, showing a New Yorker’s enthusiasm for self-examination.”

When Coming Apart was released on video in 2000, an article in the Chicago Tribune called it “stylistically daring.” And in 2011 the Brooklyn Academy of Music showed both of Mr. Ginsberg’s films. After the deputy curator Jacob Perlin moved to Metrograph, the repertory theater on the Lower East Side, where he is now artistic and programmatic director, he held a performance in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of “Coming Apart”. Restorations of both Mr. Ginsberg’s films were completed by the film company Kino Lorber.

The belated acceptance of his films offered Mr Ginsberg a relief.

“In 2011, Milton said he had two afterlife,” said Mr Perlin, who befriended Mr Ginsberg, over the phone. “When MoMA showed ‘Coming Apart’ and in 2011 when I showed his two films.”