Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tarnation

Tarnation (2003) is the debut film by Jonathan Caouette. It's an autobiographical documentary about growing up with his schizophrenic mother, comprised mostly of old home movies, super 8 footage, answering machine messages, family photographs, etc. which Caouette edited together himself on his iMac. The small, independent film debuted at the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was later picked up for wider theatrical release.

The movie is an incredibly moving document about Caouette's enduring love for his mother, in spite of the pain her illness causes to those around her. His manipulation of images, graphics, sounds, music and titles is innovative, but never self-consciously so. It's amazing to see so many new ways of piecing together a story, but to still have the film retain a very natural, straight-forward, easy to comprehend narrative line.

To call Caouette's childhood "troubled" or "difficult" is an understatement. Foster homes, sexual abuse, a mentally disturbed mother, drugs, institutions, and dysfunctional family members are all part of the picture. And Caouette doesn't shy away from sharing even the most discomforting and revealing of recorded family history: young Jonathan trying on drag for the first time at 12, early and twisted attempts at horror movies, his mother and father bickering on camera at a reunion, his own institutionalization and his mother hamming it up for the camera in a series of manic episodes.

As depressing and harrowing as much of the film is, Tarnation is ultimately about the redemptive and transformative power of love and artistic creation.It really is one of the most amazing little documentaries around, truly inspiring what someone creative can make with so little money and backing. Its budget is touted (minus the home computer) as being about $150.

FilmStock Rating: A

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