Cast: Jonathan Caouette, Renee LeBlanc, Aldolph and Rosemary Davis, David Sanin Paz
Director: Jonathan Caouette
Screenplay: Jonathan Caouette
Genre: DocumentaryRated: M moderate themes, moderate coarse language, incidental nudity
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Your Greatest Creation Is The Life You Lead
Jonathan Caouette has been documenting his life since he was eleven years old. With 'Tarnation', he weaves a psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of 80s pop culture and dramatic re-enactments to create an epic portrait of an American family torn apart by dysfunction and reunited through the power of love.
Having relocated to New York in his twenties and subsequently attaining peace in the form of a supportive mate, Caouette discovers that family ties are never truly unbound. He rekindles a touching relationship with another victim of a tumultuous childhood - his own mother Renee.
Jonathan Caouette has been recording his life in various forms since he was eleven years old. With 'Tarnation', Caouette brings to the screen some of his life so far, including footage from movies; old and new, sound recordings including answering machine messages, photographs and letters, which are also combined with onscreen printed titles that tell parts of the Caouette story so far.
Caouette made 'Tarnation' with very little money using free movie-making software that came with his computer, which is obvious at times by its naivety and unique rawness. There are long sequences where it is obvious Caouette was experimenting with the software, including many pop-art like montages that almost become tedious with their frequency, but they do have a solid backup from a decent soundtrack which is a redeeming feature.
Jonathan Caouette traces his life, from his mother Renee's tragic accident falling from roof of her home as a child which resulted in her receiving 200+ electric convulsive therapy treatments which many blame for her mental illness, her incarcerations into psychiatric hospitals, Jonathan's grandparents and their alleged abuse of Renee, Jonathan's homosexuality and its repercussions, including drug and alcohol abuse, and Jonathan's pursuit to help his mother. Much of this is not pretty, but it is honest, brutal and often very emotional.
Jonathan Caouette has made, at times, a very self-indulgent documentary, but then again he has every right to reveal what he wants, as it's his movie, but sometimes some of the revelations are not so enlightening and so leave you wondering what was the point of their inclusion. It sometimes even feels like he is wallowing in self-pity, which results in pretty depressing footage that is often unyielding. Yes, it does show a very dysfunctional family and the results of that family but there is almost no light at the end of the tunnel of what is ultimately a heartbreaking story. Occasionally motivating and informative, 'Tarnation' has limited appeal.
Rating : **½