Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother -- a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more -- culled from 19 years of his life.
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Part documentary, part narrative fiction, part home movie, and part acid trip. A psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, old answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of '80s pop culture, and dramatic reenactments to create an epic portrait of an American family travesty. The story begins in 2003 when Jonathan learns that his schizophrenic mother, Renee, has overdosed on her lithium medication. He is catapulted back into his real and horrifying family legacy of rape, abandonment, promiscuity, drug addiction, child abuse, and psychosis. As he grows up on camera, he finds the escapist balm of musical theater and B horror flicks and reconnects to life through a queer chosen family. Then a look into the future shows Jonathan as he confronts the symbiotic and almost unbearable love he shares with his beautiful and tragically damaged mother. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Tarnation is a very difficult film. We had to watch it for a class to do with the representation of family in the media particularly with the mother figure and while this film touches on that sometimes, I wonder if there was a better film they could've shown us. It begins to look as though a film to protest shock therapy, which is evidenced here to have caused the filmmaker's mother's schizophrenia. That would've been an engaging film. Instead, the film is incredibly unfocused, incoherent and random that it's difficult to try and judge its case. Presented as a picture book that's been through all of imovie's filters, it's spliced together in a loud, disturbing and sometimes contrived way. Perhaps this was intended to display the effects of the trauma, and sometimes for that reason it is effective and does resonate but for the most part, it's confusing and uncomfortable. It lacks a lot of structure and the experiments didn't work and it feels narcissistic more than anything with some shots that feel staged for the documentary. It does however have an interesting way of storytelling with flashing text telling a general story in 6 words at a time but it doesn't redeem itself as a film. That could've been a blog post or an article. However, it does has a fantastic soundtrack.
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